I’m discouraged and scared. The state I find myself now in comes after numerous attempts in putting myself out there, in the public, and receiving little or no affirmation of my efforts. I’ve begun to wonder what the effort is for, what’s in it for me, where is this taking me. Who am I to think that I could accomplish what I’m trying to do? Why am I even trying?
Every time I get scared, I dive into a dark funk. Nothing I do is right in my eyes. Everything is hopeless. I isolate myself from friends, family, and colleagues. I’ll be exposed as an impostor. I don’t talk to wife or kid. I stop going out for my regular social appointments, which tend to be one-on-ones with friends in a coffeeshop not far from my house. All I have to do is stop calling and E-mailing and things shut down. When my friends do approach me, I find excuses not to meet with them.
After a bout of misery that lasts from hours to weeks, even months, I reach the point where I can’t stand it anymore and look inside. What has gotten me into the situation? Where is the fear coming from? Why am I terrified of my future.
In almost every instance, I can pinpoint the source of my anxiety. Selfishness, self-centeredness. My expectations get me whacked out of joint. On some level, I believe I should get some return. People should applaud my energy. They should see how hard I’m trying. The ought to understand the discipline and effort I’m putting into my work. I need accolades. I deserve attention.
Of course, all this is silly. I don’t deserve attention, applause, or accolades. I work and that labor, well accomplished should deliver a satisfaction in itself. I’m not special. I’m slogging along just like everyone else.
Every week, I sent out at least four queries to agents. Since the end of April, I have queried 86 agents and independent and small publishers. Two agents have asked for more material—a feat in itself—and both times they turned away my work after further consideration.
At the same time, I have sent my essays to over 100 magazines and literary journals. I have had some success there. My efforts have brought me ten publications since the beginning of the year, a record any writer would be proud of. Presently, I have about eight essays submitted to 48 journals and magazines. It takes weeks and weeks, months to hear back from any one of them. I had submitted one essay back in October that was just rejected last week—nine months.
Yet, somehow, it’s not enough. My selfish side wants more recognition. Affirmations should come on at least a weekly basis. Editors and agents jump out of the windows after my hard-fought struggles with the written word.
I’m inured to rejection. I greet each one with some relief. At least now I know and can move on with my life. Magazines and journals always send rejections when they don’t want work. Most agents on the other hand say, well, if you don’t hear from us, that means we passed. The lack of response is about the worst thing that can happen to a writer. Better a terse rejection than nothing at all, or an assumption that if enough time has passed, that means rejection.
That I’ve chosen a lonely, difficult profession that’s difficult and returns little is no one else’s fault but my own. It’s not like ironwork, which was physically the hardest work I’ve ever done. At the end of the day on a construction site, I could look up or back and say, yeah, I did that. There were other men and women doing the same thing. We patted each other on the back and shook hands. Each day ended with a certain sort of satisfaction. Though there seemed to be an endless bridge ahead of us at the end of the day, we could still consider what we had done a success.
With trying to sell a book, there isn’t anything I can look back on except a list of who I queried and when. For days now, nothing has come in the E-mail. Not one rejection, not one word of encouragement. Nothing. I sit and wait. I find myself checking E-mail every hour or couple of hours. Each time I’m disappointed. Zip. Nada. Zilch.
I expect too much. My job, as I see it, is to put the stuff out there. I need to let other professionals involved in the process to do their jobs. They have to figure out if what I have done will make them money, if they can get a return on the efforts they are going to put into selling my book—the wrangle with me over the proposal and the manuscript, the interaction they will have with agents, the success of the book in the market.
Before I get too down on myself, I also much consider that I’m breakable. Anyone in my position would suffer the same kinds of doubt and disappointment that comes with high expectations and need for affirmation.
The solution, then, is to get out of the affirmation and expectation business. That’s where I find myself today. The angst and fear and anxiety that I felt earlier this week, earlier today, is abating even as I write about it. If I can stick to my job and stay out of everyone else’s, I’ll be just fine.
When this comes to an end—when that one person or publisher says yes—I will be able to tell the story, documented in my notebook, that over so-and-so-many agents and publishers rejected my work. After all, I’ve heard the stories of Thomas Wolfe and J.K. Rowling and how many times agents and publishers turned away their classic works. Rejection is something of a badge of legitimacy. Someday, I may be able to say, yes, 186 agents and 40 publishers turned away my book before such-and-such a press accepted it for publication.
Plus, let me put this into perspective for myself and for you. I’m only to the letter “M” in the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents. I haven’t even approached the Poets&Writers list of literary agents. I have not cracked the Poets&Writers list of independent and small presses. I still have plenty of work and opportunity in front of me.
I believe in what I’ve done. That’s what I need to keep in mind. I tell my workshop participants all the time that a writer serves the story. The story doesn’t have an obligation to the writer. Serve the writing, I tell myself as I finish this essay. Serve the writing, realize that all these processes take time. I have only been at it for two and a half months. Some writers take years to get their work published.
Deep breath. I’ll be fine.