The (Mostly) Ugly Truth About My Writing Life

LIW5C-9eI am a success. I am a failure. I am driven. I am defeated. I am thrilled to tell the truth. I am terrified of the consequences.

But here goes.

Why share this? Because the most popular post I ever wrote on Facebook was about my crappy birthday a few years back. People were refreshed by (to steal from Colbert) my “truthiness”. I’ve been exchanging emails with a poet friend of mine, and when I threatened to share my feelings about writing in a blog post, she said, “Writers need to hear this from other writers – and so do students.” Maybe they do. And maybe I need to tell it. Or maybe I’m about to commit career suicide. Could it get worse than where I am? I’m not sure.

Here’s the truth — I’ve been rejected a lot for the past few years. It’s been defeating. But I keep trying. I often think I’m stupid for continuing to try.

Here’s some advice I’ve gotten — You should promote yourself more (my books and I have been featured on TV, in two newspapers, two magazines, in alumni bulletins, and I did multiple blog tours). You should be on social media (I am; I don’t think I’m good at it). You should write what interests you (I did). You should be able to guess what the next big thing will be (um…).

I also get — You should have written that great idea in a different way with different characters and a different setting. You need to write something totally different. You should write realistic fiction. You should not write realistic fiction. You should write something cleaner, something smuttier, something with no curse words, something that sounds like real kids who curse, something socially responsible, something crazy and immoral.

 Conclusions — Maybe I suck. It’s possible. I don’t think so. Am I the best? No way. Close? Nope. A decent storyteller? I think so. I really do. So what gives? I don’t know.

So I self-published. A successful writer friend told me not to do it. That made me feel horrible and caused me to wait a few years to try it, but I wanted to share Mac/Beth and I wanted to take hold of my own destiny. I made a little money. People have enjoyed it. And self-publishing, like internet dating, has lost much of its stigma. I still cringe when I think about it. I’m going to do it again anyway.

Some comments I’ve gotten about self-publishing — There are self-publishers who eventually got real book deals afterwards. There are self-publishers who made millions. There are self-publishers who would never want to traditionally publish again.

The trouble is, since none of those has come true for me, I feel like a failure in a new area. Glass half empty? Maybe. True? Yes.

I’m disappointed a lot.

How I deal with this — I reach out to friends who are cheerleaders. I love to see what some writers post (many are funny and enlightening). I block some writers on Facebook (I feel petty every time I do this). I feel stabs of jealousy at every Scholastic Book Fair, at every cover reveal, and every deal announcement (I hit “like” anyway; I really am happy for them). I get depressed about my writing career (but I can’t stop telling stories. I’m happiest when I’m writing, so I write). I cry a lot when dealing with the business side of writing.

But what about The Royals? What about Falling for Hamlet? Mac/Beth? — Well . . . those are . . . nice. In some cases, better than nice. Amazing. I should be forever grateful (I will be) and incandescently happy (it’s hard to sustain happiness!). I share my good news. I tweet it. Shout it. Text it. Post it. But for every happy post, there’s a whole lot you’re not seeing.
So is the rejection because I suck? Maybe. Was it someone else’s fault? Fault is too strong a word. Is rejection part of the business? Absolutely. I knew it going in. I know it now. Does that make it hurt less? Hell no.

How I deal — Out of interest and personal growth, I read dozens of suggestions from successful writers telling me that what I need to do is write what I love (I did, got rejected), to work on my craft (I did, not sure if I got better, still trying), to stick with it and keep writing and trying to get published (I am, but often doubt this is a good idea). I keep reading their suggestions and mulling over inspirational quotes, kicking myself for not being positive enough and wondering if my doubts are, in fact, holding me back. If I really leap, the net will appear. Right? But I thought I did leap.

I keep following my friends’ more personal advice by having a good cry, dusting myself off, getting up and trying again. I get up and get up and get up. But what if I’m never published traditionally again? What if the rejections keep coming? At what point am I a foolish, under-talented idiot who should have given up long ago?

I’m terrified of that, but since I don’t know – and I can’t stop myself – I’ll keep writing.

2 thoughts on “The (Mostly) Ugly Truth About My Writing Life

  1. All I can say is I feel your pain, sister. I feel the same. I bet a lot of writers do. It’s not really a career where one has more and more success, like other careers. Boy, I am doing a good job cheering you up, eh? Bottom line, all we have is our love of writing. As long as that lasts, we are good. If publishing is our end goal, we will continue to be stuck in depression because it seems out of our control.


  2. Thank you for sharing that, Michelle. I was once embarrassed at a tour of my old high school, to tell some of my old high school friends that I was a teacher of young children. (They were a university professor, a doctor, a writer). One said ,”you have to do what’s in you.” That idea has stuck with me for many years since. You are a writer. That’s what you need to do.


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