Sunday, August 29, 2010

Encouragement for Writers

Kind Words Never Kill Dreams
Rejection brings one of those gut-wrenching emotions to every writer trudging down that path toward publication. Every writer struggling to achieve some level of literary success—whether to publish an article, a book, or a novel—will encounter that punch-in-the-stomach rejection.

It is time to take a break from rejection. Take a deep breath and bear with me for a moment.

I want writers and readers to take a respite from crime, cops, mysteries, and publishing chaos. It is time to take a mental health moment. Time to step away from everything and everyone in order to regain some level of sanity. You need occasional moments like this, writers, if you have faithfully pursued your writing craft.

Think back on when you last received a word of encouragement. Think hard.

Such a moment came to me a few weeks ago. And I came away from that experience with a suggestion that might help you endure those nasty rejections.

A well-know author sent an unsolicited email a few weeks ago after I posted an interview regarding that novelist’s work. The writer was very kind and expressed appreciation for the article. This person closed with words of encouragement about my writing. Those words lifted me for a moment. The day seemed a little more alive, a little brighter because of those few words.

I bring this up for a reason. So often writers are hit with rejections from many quarters—editors, agents, publishers, even other writers. This just comes with the territory. Most writers learn to develop thick skins, to learn from constructive criticism, and allow other critical barbs to bounce off their toughening epidermis. However, writers are not always successful. Sometimes they let those verbal or written jabs fester like wood slivers under the skin. If not exorcised, the impact of these rejections will fester until a writer’s ability to move forward is compromised. Then, the writer succumbs to this disease called rejection.

Letters of rejection become symbolic badges of courage for many writers, tangible proof that the literary world fails to see another literary opportunity before their eyes. Not that rejection is totally without some redeeming qualities. Occasional gems of criticism are lodged between these pages of standard rejections, comments that might be useful to the writer in the future if taken to heart.
Many writers keep a file of these rejections. The reason to documenting this swelling number of rejections might seem odd to normal folk, but there are some advantages to keeping a record of failures.

Many writers may keep such a file because they believe someday their dream will come true. A writer’s daily pilgrimage to the mailbox may someday be rewarded by a book contract, stuffed inside a thick envelope. Or, they might find a letter from an agent, desperate to represent the next John Verdon or Seig Larrson. Then these letters of rejections will become a writer’s proof that they paid the price, their tangible evidence of a  painful pilgrimage to the altar of publication. They will be able to pull out these rejection letters with relish, turn to another writer, and say: “See, they just did not understand what I was trying to do here."

Rejection letters can be used to give comfort to others. One well-known author knew I was upset by a rejection.  The published author pulled out his own rejection letter from the same person who turned me down.  His rejection letter stated his work was just not compatible with today’s market. The author persevered anyway, and published many, many novels in that genre. In a strange way, sharing his rejection gave me encouragement.

The sheer number of rejections that any writer faces in their fight to be published can be staggering. Unfortunately, the publishing industry is also struggling to survive. As a result of that struggle, they are even less inclined to take chances on new, untested writers. The chances of succeeding in this industry—to some writers—seem overwhelming.

This is why I wanted to take a mental health moment and offer a suggestion.

These words of encouragement I received a few weeks ago stayed with me. Writers use rejection to spur their resolve to prove everyone wrong. I think a more positive way to approach this struggle is for writers to use these moments of encouragement as a way to boost their resolve. To give themselves a mental pick-me-up when things seems on the downturn. Try to focus just as much on the positive as the negative. Think back on those moments when someone gave you a word of encouragement. Do you remember how you felt? Did you record these moments as faithfully as you did your rejections?

Here is my suggestion:

Start a file and keep every documented shred of encouragement that comes your way. Label your file “Encouragement” and put it right next to your rejection file. Before long, I bet this encouragement file will be thicker than your rejections. This might help put everything in perspective. Pull out those encouragements when you need a boost.

Take a moment and think about those words of encouragement that comes your way. From your spouse or best friend. Maybe you went to a writer’s conference and showed your work to agents, publisher authors, and publishers. Someone in that crowd is bound to give you a word of encouragement. Document it and file it away. You might even return that encouragement. Send a note to the encourager telling them what their kind words meant to you. Pass on a kind word to those aspiring novelists you see on blogs, at conferences or in your own community.

Harsh words may kill a writer's dream. Kind words will keep those dreams alive.

I don’t mean to get all touchy/feely here. I know some of you know I was born and raised in California. And—like my U.S. Marine Corp drill instructor—many people think everyone from that sunny state are a bunch of sissies (Obviously, I cleaned up what my sergeant really said). But writing is a tough job and it not for sissies. You have to develop a certain toughness to keep plugging away, day after day, without seeing success in the near future. Even gun-ho marines take time to step back and get a perspective on things. Writer need to do the same.

So, pull out that file when your days get dark and the blank page is staring back at you without blinking. When your next letter of rejection lands in your mailbox. Take a look at all those words of encouragement.

Then, get back to writing.

Q4U: When was the last time you received a word of encouragement about your writing?


  1. Literally, all I can say true. You hit the nail on the head. Thanks.
    - Julia

  2. Thank you, Julia. See ... encouragement works. Now we just need to spread it to others.