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Misery Loves Publishing
for those who second guess
I once heard a bestselling author say that the only advice they regularly hand out to new writers is: don’t give up. The difference between those who are published and those who are not is that the published ones refused to give up.
This mindset is pervasive. Partly because it’s true; if you really want it you ultimately just have to keep going. And perhaps partly because it’s easy advice to hand out: just keep going, just keep pushing. The trouble is this advice often leads to the idea that if you stop, you’ve failed. If you let the rejections get to you, you’re somehow not as resilient as you’re supposed to be. If you falter, maybe your convictions weren’t strong enough in the first place. This shouldn’t be an industry where you have to burn yourself out and run yourself down to reach publication, one that requires enormous mental sacrifice, one that takes so much unrelenting and unflinching effort. You’re not wrong to falter sometimes and to wonder if your dream is worth it.
So much of publishing is misery. Misery loves publishing, this is a place where it can thrive. It’s actually very normal to feel bad when someone gives you disappointing news. It’s very normal to feel discouraged when rejections pile up. It’s very normal to second guess your work when people are constantly picking it apart. You should work on building up your confidence, but you’d have to be a little bit delusional to completely ignore all of the disappointment, all of the misery that comes with pursuing a traditional publishing path. Especially for those of us who aren’t picked as publishing’s darlings: who don’t sign quickly, sell quickly, become frontlist, “win” competitions and awards and mentorship program slots. It’s harmful, but normal, to feel desperately left behind when all of your friends sell and sign and you don’t. Feeling this way, feeling discouraged, doesn’t mean that the dream meant less to you than it does to others or that you aren’t meant for this industry. It’s a harsh field, but the answer isn’t to make everyone “tougher,” it’s to make the industry less harsh.
I can give all of the caveats: actually it doesn’t mean your work is “bad” if you don’t sell quickly, actually you really should keep your eyes on your own page, actually you do need to just keep going, and you have to learn how to process critique healthily, etc etc. Consider them issued, they’re all true, but oftentimes when these platitudes are tossed at you, it just feels like you’re somehow messed up for feeling bad. Like it’s your fault that you feel bad, and it’s your fault that bad things have happened to you, and you just need to be tougher and stronger and more confident and less sensitive.
But the days in which I feel good about my writing and my journey are often matched by the days in which I feel…exhausted. Like maybe this really is the end of the road for me. Maybe I really should stop for a while, and if I still want it in the future I should try again. I queried for four years. I’ve been on sub for a year and a half. There are those who have done both bits for longer than I have and ended up selling, but I think they too would agree that it’s exhausting and often demoralizing. So sometimes I do stop. I stop writing, editing, engaging with the publishing world. I go do something else. That doesn’t make me less than those that keep muscling through, it just makes me human. So this is me writing in favor of everyone quitting writing when they need to. Quitting a project, quitting a genre, quitting the endless quest to get published. You’ll get back to it if or when you need to.
And this is me writing in favor of those who keep going, but feel like shit anyways. The ones who let their doubts creep in, who cheerlead for others but alone at the end of the day wonder why it is that they can’t seem to get it right and sell their own book. Who pay attention to the negative feedback more than the positive, who keep revising and revising and revising. Who think they’re the only ones who often loathe writing more than they look forward to it. This is for those who second guess—I’m with you, I see you, I am you.
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