Encouragement and Cattle Prods

If you’ve read any books on writing, at least books on writing with the intent of being published, then you know that there are seventy-five million ways to be rejected, a deluge of precise methods we can employ to ensure our work will never see the light of day.  Despite our desire to ‘just write’ and have the world fall in love with our raw material, the books we read deliver a needed reality check: writing is a profession as well as a journey, and if we long for publication, we need to take it as seriously as any other job.

We will constantly be striving to improve our craft, expand our horizons, and become more complete writers.  We will ingest book after book, learning from others who have made this writing life their profession.  We’ll study and we’ll practice, we’ll experiment wildly, and we’ll return to using the training wheels others have bequeathed to us.

As the days tick by, hopefully we’ll grow more and more confident in our abilities, because there will be more and more to be confident in.  But there is no way around the fact that there will also be days that our confidence will be in the crapper, laying right there at the bottom beside the pages of rubbish we retched up that day, proof that we are going nowhere.

Enter those same books on writing.  The first time we read them, they were cattle prods, whipping us into shape.  Re-read them and we will find, in the books worth their salt, heaps of encouragement sprinkled amidst each electrical shock.  We didn’t notice it the first time, because we didn’t need it.  But it is there.  Writers are an encouraging lot.

From Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages:

It seems important to me that beginning writers ponder this–that since 1964, I have never had a book, story or poem rejected that was not later published.  If you know what you are doing, eventually you will run into an editor who knows what he/she is doing.  It may take years, but never give up.  Writing is a lonely business not just because you have to sit alone in a room with your machinery for hours and hours every day, month after month, year after year, but because after all the blood, sweat, toil and tears you still have to find somebody who respects what you have written enough to leave it alone and print it.  And, believe me, this remains true, whether the book is your first novel of your thirty-first.

Joseph Hansen memo, from Rotten Reviews

This little morsel appears to me to be both encouraging and prodding, depending on what you need when you read it.  Right now, I can take it as both and be happy.

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