As part of my “how to stop feeling sorry for yourself” series of articles, I realized that failing as a writer was one of my biggest sources of self-pity. And if I feel like a failure as a writer, I suspect there are other writers who feel the same way.
Here are a few tips on how to stop feeling sorry for yourself after getting yet another rejection letter from a literary agent, book publisher, or non-paying website that posts what you consider to be the worst writing ever.
“Ever tried, ever failed?” said Samuel Beckett. “No matter. try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
I have the 1954 edition of The Writer’s Handbook. Here’s what Faith Baldwin says in ‘Obstacle Race’ (one of the articles at the beginning of the book, designed to help you stop feeling sorry for yourself as a failed writer):
“You have to work. You have to work hard and unremittingly, and sacrifice a great deal; and when you fall at, or fail to clear, an obstacle (also usually an editor), you have to pick yourself up and go on.”
How I Failed as a Writer, Then Met My Literary Agent
Here’s how we’re doing this: below is my brief summary of how I landed my third literary agent and my first book contract with a traditional print publishing house. Can you spot the three ways I felt sorry for myself as a failed writer — and the three ways I overcame my self-pity?
I always dreamed of being a writer, but I struggled with insecurity, doubt, and fear. Why would anyone read my books? Who do I think I am, anyway? Getting published seemed as likely as traveling back in time and meeting Jesus. But then I moved to tiny Bowen Island, British Columbia, and had nowhere to work. So I learned how to make money blogging and writing for magazines. That gave me the chops I needed to start knocking on doors of publishing houses.
My first unpublished book was called Unveiling Vancouver — a city guidebook. I pitched it to a dozen publishers, and one offered me a book contract! But the deal fell through because I moved to a different city. My heart was crushed, and my original insecurities rose to haunt me. Who do I think I am, anyway? But this time I had an answer: I’m a writer, that’s who!
My second unpublished book was See Jane Soar. A literary agent from New York City offered to represent me; when he couldn’t sell it to the first few publishers he tried, he dropped me. My heart, shattered again. I felt sorry for myself; I really was a failed writer. I abandoned all hope of publishing a book and decided that writing blog posts was good enough for me.
But it wasn’t good enough for God.
Nine years later, on a California road trip with my husband and dogs, I found myself at a Christian writers’ conference on Mount Hermon. I didn’t intend to meet a literary agent, polish my book proposal writing skills, or write a book to help women Blossom. Nor did I plan on signing a contract with a publishing house six months later!
And yet, here I am. I describe my quick, short road to getting a book published in The Nonfiction Book Proposal That Won Me a Publishing Contract.
My first manuscript is due April 2, and I already have a second book idea cooking. My agent has asked me to work on my marketing plans first, and see how I like working with my publishing house. Then, we’ll pitch my proposal.
We’re here only because getting published stopped being about me — my dreams, goals, self-identity. Now, my writing is about a higher purpose, a calling, a mission in life. I happily signed a contract to write this book, but I would’ve just as happily continued my bloggy path. Either way, I show up and spill out what the Holy Spirit pours in.
What do you think — how did I feel sorry for myself as a “failed writer”? And, what are the tips you can use in your own writing journey?
Here’s what I think you can glean from my story…
3 Ways to Stop Feeling Sorry for Yourself as a Failed Writer
First, here’s something to discourage you from writing:
“Just because you want to write doesn’t mean you can,” writes Faith Baldwin in 1954 edition of The Writer’s Handbook. “As I have often proclaimed, wishing to be a doctor or lawyer or engineer doesn’t create the knowledge essential to becoming one. Just because you had straight A’s in English in high school or even colleges doesn’t mean that you can become the great white hope of literature.”
Why on earth would I want to discourage you from being a writer? Because only if you can overcome discouragement will you become a writer.
1. Know that it takes 10 years — on average — to get published
Okay, the truth is I don’t know if it’s statistically true that it takes 10 years for a writer to get published…but I know it takes a long, long time. Writing good is hard work, and publishers are big businesses that don’t have time or money to put behind bad writers. So buck up if you feel sorry for yourself as a failed writer after a few months or even weeks of rejection letters. You’ve got work to do.
2. Don’t make your writing about you
Even if you’re Elizabeth Gilbert or Anne Lamott, you need to write stories that resonate with actual readers. You can’t just write your own memoir or short story and hope an editor or agent or publishing house will fall in love with it. That, my friend, is a surefire way to fail as a writer — and to start the downward spiral of feeling sorry for yourself. Your writing has to mean something to your audience. Inspire, inform, entertain them! Help them escape the pain of daily life. Show them how to do something.
3. Keep learning how to write better
I’m almost always reading a book about writing. I also read books about business, branding, and marketing. I love learning about writing, at writers’ conferences and workshops and library author talks. If you’re serious about writing, you’ll keep learning how to write. And if you’re serious about learning how to stop feeling like a failed writer, you will eventually succeed!
“Those of you who recognize the obstacles, who do not shut your eyes to them, who admit their presence at unexpected moments, those of you who realize that the way is rugged and that you can’t get there in a Cadillac,” writes Baldwin, “those of you who are equipped with talent and also with those qualities without which talent cannot make itself heard – determination, stubbornness, adaptability, the gift of being able to take and profit by criticism and the absolute will to win – you will become writers. And we’ll all be proud of you.”
What do you think, fellow scribes? What are your tips on how to stop feeling sorry for yourself, for writers who feel like they failed?
One more thing…what does failed writer mean to you? Why do you feel sorry for yourself?