Grieving A Writing Life

When you start out in the writing community, you’re learning, and part of that process is seeing those before you rise.

Just as you’re entering the query trenches, there are others being lifted out of them with agent representation and publishing deals, and you wait patiently for the day that person will be you.

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 Or you might have entered it into every unpublished manuscript comp you could find and felt that repeated sting of disappointment when the long list announcement didn’t have your name amongst the winning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

Find me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

81 thoughts on “Grieving A Writing Life

  1. Kelly sgroi

    Hi Kate,

    This post is another level! 🤩😍 Have you tried submitting it to Brevity? I really think it would be a perfect fit for that journal. I felt so much of this, particularly the first part. Because I’m one who has entered all the manuscript comps and never been on a list. I’ve been at it for over a decade. And I’ve watched others pass me on the road to publication. Thank you for this post. It’s the best thing, I needed to read today.

    Also, if you ever need any support, I’d be happy to share what I can on my socials. Don’t be scared to reach out.

    Much love, Kelly

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, Kelly. I’m so glad to hear you connected to this post and these thoughts too and that you needed to read some of what was here. I don’t usually submit my blog posts anywhere but I’m blown away that you think it’s good enough to be submitted elsewhere. Thank you. Thank you also for the offer of support, that’s so kind of you. I wrote this post when I was having a low moment. Usually, I wouldn’t share it publicly, but I’ve seen a few tweets and posts by fellow writers recently about the same disappointments of not being long-listed and seeing other writers leap ahead of them so I thought it might be something others could relate to and decided to share it. Thank you for confirming a lot of us are in the same writing boat. It means a lot during those low moments.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This one came right from your heart, Kate. I never had the courage or confidence to try the traditional publishing route, but I’m quite happy with my self-published work. Without a dream to shoot for, some never achieve anything. Better to end up “somewhere you never fathomed” than look back with regret for not trying. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Wonderfully written! 🙂 I’m actually still in the process of creating and self-publishing my first poetry book. I just feel that when it comes to self-publishing you have much more control over your book, and you don’t have to delete something that you feel attached to to make it “sell-worthy” for a larger audience.. does that make sense?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. hrkemp01

    This is so real, poignant, and heartfelt. As an indie published author, still tracking through my aspirations, and making regular readjustment a, I relate to this completely. Beautifully written.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve been there, Kate. I went through the submission and querying process for ten years. Lots of rejections, and even some near-misses when an agent and one or two publishers requested full manuscripts. But to no avail. In 2010 I became aware of self-publishing and haven’t looked back. But I know what you mean about the feeling of treading water. Staying afloat but not moving ahead. I suspect there are many of us in this situation. Mostly happy with our writing life but at times wondering what we’re doing wrong, or not doing at all.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this. If you don’t mind, I would like to reblog this post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Audrey 😊. Yes, please share it. I think you’ve summed it up perfectly as treading water. That’s definitely how I’ve felt at times. I had some full requests too and even a contract with a small press, but things fell through and that’s how I ended up self-publishing too. I don’t regret it, but it does certainly feel like you’re not moving anywhere some days.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This post could have been written by me, for you describe my journey so well, Kate. I have grown so old with my dreams, and sometimes I look at them, fading away and wonder if it really is too late for them. Most of the time I am happy to be doing something, although treading water is so much better than not getting your feet wet. Finding yourself in enough water for a bit of a swim would be even better!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Thank you for encapsulating the numerous trials, disappointments, sudden flashes of hope, the descents, the plateaus and the rest of the experiences for the majority of writers. Above all I salute the theme of determination here, the importance of the affirmation of the belief in one’s own work.
    To finish a project and ‘put it out there’, well that is the achievement supreme. Thus it ‘belongs to the ages’.
    There is so much here for the new writer, the struggling writer and above all the disappointed and currently disillusioned writer.
    Being re-blogged

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you 😊. You’re welcome and thank you for reblogging and letting me know your thoughts. It makes me so happy to know others are feeling this way and have felt this way during their own writing journeys.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your post could have been my experiences in writing.
        All ‘rational logic’ says to give up and find another ‘hobby’. ‘Rational Logic’ misses the salient point, this is not a hobby; writing is an important part of the Writer’s Life Blood.
        Keep on keeping on, I always say.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Boy have I lived this one, Kate. Thanks for putting it in such powerful words.

    I speak as a writer who actually got a book contract (Morrow/HarperCollins), then saw all the doors close after my novel didn’t meet the publisher’s expectations. Turned indie in 2013 and haven’t been able to get an agent in the meantime.

    But writers write, and I’m a writer, so … It requires a resetting of expectations and motives and goals, but in the end it’s the Serenity Prayer that gets you through. Especially the line about accepting the things we can’t change.

    Best of luck in your journey.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Kevin. Such a great reminder about accepting what we cannot change. I’ve definitely come to that conclusion myself over the years. Thank you for sharing the hard parts of your journey. To get as far as you did and still not have things “work out” like writers expect when signed with a publisher is tough. I hope you’ve found success as an indie and I’m glad to hear you’re still writing.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Reblogged this on Michael Seidel, writer and commented:
    This is a beautiful post about the writing life. It’s often about ‘the next’ whatever when you’re searching for success — the next manuscript, concept, story, idea, novel. The next moment, the next attempt, the next time you sit down to write, the next questioning moment about your goals and determination, the next day of joy over writing progress, the next day of weariness and rejection, the next new resolve, the next day of squaring your shoulders, sucking in a breath and whispering words of encouragement to yourself in your mind, one more time.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. petespringerauthor

    Exceptional post, Kate! I think writing is not that different from many other areas of life. We adjust our goals and expectations based on our experiences. Sometimes we achieve our goals quicker, slower, or never, but that’s life.

    1. Career—Did we get to where we wanted at our desired pace, or did we switch paths because we realized what we were doing didn’t bring us happiness?

    2. Family—Did we meet our soulmate, or are we still looking? Perhaps we realized what we thought we wanted has changed. Children? I would bet most people have kids either earlier or later than they thought they would. Health issues altered the timing of that for us.

    3. Home—Did we buy a home when we thought we would? Doubtful, for a variety of reasons.

    I began writing after I retired, so my expectations are probably different than someone else’s. The mindset that works best for me is not to compare myself to others but to honestly assess if I’ve improved as a writer. The answer is yes, and there is intrinsic value in that. At the same time, I realize I still have a ton to improve. I’ve learned to respect the process. If I eventually turn to self-publishing (the most likely avenue), it will be because I’ve changed my goals or expectations.

    When someone has success, either traditionally or indie, I take encouragement from that because it reinforces the belief that it is possible.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Yeah.
    Or, you say, after you’ve thrown a few books into the wilds of the West Indies, screw it. I’ll write for the helluvit, and just revel in the process of getting better. The days of earning a living through a literary career are long gone. The lottery would be more lucrative. Best to focus on only the writing, only the next perfect sentence. Chances are, you will be the only one to ever read it. And shouldn’t it please you first?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think you’re right about the lottery being more lucrative than writing 🤣. I also think most of us realize, especially when we’ve been in the writing community for a while, that no one makes money. Even successful writers (bar those best writing phenomenons that occasionally happen) need to have other jobs to support their writing. It definitely is about the love of writing first and foremost, and focusing on becoming the best you can be in comparison to where you started.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I firmly believe that if you are not getting a paycheck every two weeks for your creative efforts, you should simply be doing whatever you love doing for the love of doing it. Doing it brings joy instead of frustration, failure, and sadness. Submit, if you want, as a lark. Publish it yourself, if you care to, as a lark. Dare lightning to strike. Give it away, because why not? Keep doing it, because it is fun. Be an unapologetic amateur. Have fun.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Beautifully written Kate, and so heart-felt. I think it’s so easy to get consumed by our goals that we lose track of the reason why we write in the first place. Most of us write because we have stories to tell, and even if we never get published, or only a single person ever reads our words, we’ve accomplished what we set out to do. That’s an achievement we can all be proud of.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So true, Melanie 😊. Thank you for reading and for your kind comments. It can be easy to get lost in the goals, but as you said, remembering why we love writing and why we started should also be kept in mind.

      Like

  14. Kate, after reading on the comments you have for this post, It’s obvious that I’m not the only who was has felt the kinship with you. I’m still in that first query trench. I want this first MS to be acknowledged the traditional way. Will it ever happen? Chances are it won’t but so far, I’m still hoping.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thank you. I started out trying to write the stories I wanted to read. Somewhere along the way I had to acknowledge that what I consider to be a ‘good’ story is probably not what most Readers want, need or enjoy.
    I will never become a best selling author, but every now and then the Writing Gods smile on me and send me a Reader who gets it. Those moments of joy are what keep me going, but…they’re few and far between.
    I could write to a formula, but where’s the joy in that? I want light bulbs to go off in Readers’ heads. I want them to live in my worlds and feel sad when they have to leave. I want them to feel some of the joy I feel when the story unfolds inside my head.
    There’s only one way to experience that joy, and that’s to stay true to stories that make you want to write in the first place. Anything else is…just a job.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for sharing your writing journey 😊. You’ve summed it up perfectly with your statement that “anything else is just a job. ” That’s so true. If you aren’t writing what you want and love, there is no point. It’s just too much of a chore and no fun, and writing should be all about fun and loving what you’re doing 😊.

      Like

  16. Pingback: Grieving A Writing Life | Rambles, writing and amusing musings

  17. Pingback: A Writing Life – Tales Told in Darkness

  18. Jack "Blimprider" Tyler

    Good day to you, Ms. Allan, and I hope it finds you well. A writer I follow, Laurie Bell, reblogged this post, and it describes my journey almost to a T. So I’m just dropping a line to let you know that I’ve linked it with comments over on my own blog, https://talestoldindarkness.wordpress.com/

    This smacks of an ad, so feel free to delete it with no hard feelings once you’ve seen it. Just thought you might like to know…

    All the best!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for sharing, Mr. Tyler. I follow Laurie’s awesome blog too. Thank you for reaching out about your own journey. So many writers have shared their own realisations and disappointments since I published this post, and it’s so comforting to know we’ve all felt this way at some point, but that we all also chose to keep going 😊.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Kayla Bollers

    The odds are stacked against us, but if I didn’t spend my entire life trying, searching for what I believe is out there somewhere, yet to be discovered, I would feel unfulfilled when I finally reach my dying breath. You never know how far you have to mine to discover the gold. It’s excruciating at times, but it’s what I live for. That’s why I can never stop, even if success is never guaranteed.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. An incredible piece that rings so true with so many. Honestly, I find being online has had such a detrimental affect on my writing. It’s hard not to get swept up with other people’s journeys and their successes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Ari. It’s so true about social media and seeing everyone else succeed. Most days it’s a joy to see, but on the wrong day, it feels like everyone is getting ahead but you.

      Like

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