Flashback to me, four years ago: a freshly-completed novel saved in my computer, an organized spreadsheet of agents to query, a vision of multiple offers, of my name on a book cover, of tours and sequels and foreign rights, and yes, even a movie deal.
Skip to the present, and my writing career is nowhere close to that highly successful point I thought I would reach.
Since my first bumbling attempts at querying agents, I’ve completed three more manuscripts. I queried two of them. And, you guessed it, I received emails upon emails of rejections.
I’m too scared to count how many, but it’s safe to say they number somewhere in the hundreds.
But last month, I typed the opening chapter of yet another novel manuscript. Sure, there are days when I curl up on the sofa, bingewatch some Netflix and nurse my bruised ego back to health. But most days I write.
So how do I keep going? What do I do to pick myself back up after agent number five jillion says thanks, but no thanks?
Here are few ways I’ve learned to cope with the growing folder of rejections.
1. Change your definition of success
You can probably see from the opening paragraph where it all went wrong, huh?
I thought agents were going to be battling for my “genius work”, and I’d be an instant bestselling author.
Instead of aiming for that nearly-impossible shot, you can adjust your target.
Let your success become completing a manuscript, editing a scene or putting words on the page. Any time spent writing and honing your craft counts as a victory.
If you re-frame your definition, any step toward your larger goal of publication is a step in the right direction. Yes, even that latest form rejection counts. You’re putting your work out there.
2. Write every day…sort of
Some espouse the benefits of writing each day, no matter what. Others have said that every writer’s way of working is different, and you should do what works for you.
If you’re like me and you work in spurts, then measuring your progress based on a daily word count increase tends to make you feel unproductive.
So even though you might not be writing seven days a week, other activities which aid your writing can count as daily writing time.
Reading a book on craft, research for your next story, brainstorming ideas, and reading all count as writing time in my book.
3. Stay connected with writer friends
I can safely say that I wouldn’t have made it this long in the writing game without the support of other writers.
They get it.
They deeply understand how devastating it can be when the agent of your dreams doesn’t even answer your query email. They know the agony of re-working the structure of an entire novel. They have an empathy that non-writers just can’t, because they’ve traversed those same query trenches.
Sometimes you need to shoot off a quick message, to vent your frustrations with outlining or to bounce an idea around, and those awesome writers are right there with you.
4. Get out of a fiction rut
Sometimes that story just isn’t working. Sometimes that character just won’t do what you need them to do, or the logic that worked in an outline suddenly seems full of holes while you’re drafting, and you just can’t see a way out of it.
Sometimes you don’t even have a story to fill that glaring white page.
That’s when you can change things up.
Go back and read passages you wrote that you really love. Or read a few pieces of short fiction and let those inspire your own brief experiments that no one else sees. Anything to get your brain gearing up in a different direction, to shake those clogs loose and get things running again.
Try something new. Step, or even leap, out of your comfort zone. You might surprise yourself.
5. Step away from the computer
And if you still find yourself blocked, that’s when you know you need a break.
Your creative mind can only output so much before it requires more input. So let your starving mind have a meal. Exercise. Go for a run. Or go to a museum. Hang out with family or friends. Meditate.
My favorite place to go is an isolated trail along the river, and I let myself not think about writing.
Do whatever you need to do to allow your brain some rest. Your body needs sleep to grow. So do your ideas. I used to feel like a failure if I wasn’t spending every minute writing. But personal care is just as important as productivity.
And usually, once I’ve had some time away, I can’t wait to get back to writing.