When you start out in the writing community, you’re learning, and part of that process is seeing those before you rise.
Before you know it, years have gone by. You’ve been part of the writing community for a long time, helping those who are now the newbie you once were.
Experienced in the query trenches, you’ve seen it all, gotten every rejection type there is: the no answer, the form letter, the good but not good enough. You might have even hit that 100 rejections goal you’d heard other writers talk about but never thought you’d reach because your MS was too good. At least you thought so.
You might have rewritten it since those lofty newbie days. You might have even shelved it for a better one. Or you might have entered it into every unpublished manuscript comp you could find and felt that repeated sting of disappointment when the long list announcement didn’t have your name amongst the winning authors, some of whom woke up one day and thought they’d give writing a book a try, and hit it big on their first try.
That’s their journey. You tell yourself. All the people on your Twitter feed announcing their 30 agent pitch “likes” from the first competition they’d entered, the first agent they queried and landed, the first MS they wrote and signed with a publisher.
It could have even been with a book that sounded like yours. Their journey is something you question: Why did it happen for them and not me?
There are experienced writers in the mix too, some who have been writing longer than you, submitting and receiving hundreds of rejections before getting that elusive yes. You’re happy for them, too. They’ve been fighting like you have, shouting into the void for so long.
If they’ve made it, there’s hope that someday you will as well. You see the posts that encourage you to keep going, about how you’re only one more submission/manuscript/idea/sacrifice to the creative gods away from everything being your turn. Everyone gets a yes eventually. You just have to find that editor who believes in your work as much as you do.
But can that really be true? Is there really a yes out there for every single writer?
Not in the traditionally published world. There isn’t a publishing contract for every book. There isn’t even an agent for every writer.
Your outlook shifts. Maybe that lifelong goal of being contracted to a publishng house isn’t something you believe in anymore. But you still want to write and put your books out in the world, into the hands of readers. You consider another scenario you once thought impossible: self-publishing.
It’s not a last-ditch effort, one only for those writers who couldn’t “make it.” The captain of the writing boat is you. You’ll steer it where you want. You don’t need a yes from others, only from yourself.
You’ll be the publisher that you never found on your writing journey. Writing isn’t about submissions for you anymore. It’s about creating books yourself, learning how to promote, learning how to edit, working with beta readers and turning out an MS worthy of a book.
With your debut launched into the world, those in the writing community rise for you. They retweet, share, support, buy, and review. This is now your writing life, one you thought you’d never have.
It’s rewarding, but it’s hard. There’s no one to guide you, no one to help with edits, decisions, or shouting back into that void that is now larger and more of an empty echo than it ever was.
But you’re finally a published author. One with books that are bought, read and reviewed by strangers who probably don’t realize how much it means to you. You made it. Not in the way you thought you would, but in a way that became your journey.
You’re a newbie again, in a different part of the writing community, watching other self-published books hit bestseller lists. You see others rejoicing their annual library payouts or regular royalty payments that you aren’t eligible for because your books weren’t borrowed enough or haven’t sold enough copies this month, last month, or the month before that. Yes, you’ve accomplished things, but there are others doing more, earning more, and hitting bigger milestones than you.
Before you know it, it’s back. That feeling of seeing everyone else get ahead while you’re still struggling. The writing journey is once again not what you envisioned. It’s their journey, their turn, but still not yours.
You’re wondering what you’re doing wrong. What they’ve done that you haven’t. Are they better? Luckier? Why them and not you?
You are once again grieving the journey you once thought would be yours, the one you manifested, invested in, did everything right, but still didn’t reach. Not like everyone around you has. And why not? You had the same dream, the same motivation, the same goal. Sometimes you even had the better work. But the right people didn’t see it. The break didn’t come for you, and now you’re adjusting again.
You’re looking for the next goal, trying not to get so caught up in what others have so you don’t feel the what if’s and the why not me’s. It’s already selfish enough of you to even think them. You’ve achieved more than you thought, more than some others ever will. But it wasn’t what you wanted it to be and you grieve that too, before, once again, adjusting and moving on.
It’s on to the next goal, the next manuscript, the next… next. Hoping, but now always knowing with your gained experience and hindsight, that it probably still isn’t your turn. That it may never be.
Is that giving up? To some, maybe. Or maybe it’s just acceptance of a different kind. It’s not the acceptance you thought you’d receive when you shakily clicked send on your very first query all those years ago. It’s the acceptance that goals change. You can’t always have the things you put on your vision board, no matter how many self-help books say that you can.
A writing life works out for some people. For most, it’s not what they thought it would be, and it’s fine to grieve that once tightly held dream. It’s fine to realize that it won’t be your journey and to feel sad about it. Just don’t let yourself get stuck there.
Find another writing dream and be okay with it. You’ll likely end up somewhere you never fathomed, but you might also end up being in the place you were meant to.
Not everyone can shine so brightly that they become the sun, and if you tried and gave it your all, and it still wasn’t enough, don’t feel bad about that. You did what you could with what you had. Sometimes, that’s more than enough, and definitely not something to grieve about.
— K.M. Allan