A Few Hard Truths for Writers

So, I just got my…um, I lost count, so I’ll just call it “another” rejection letter today. Of course, it came in an email and was in response to a script I wrote, but the concept is the same. Am I disappointed? Of course, I’d say that I was always disappointed to receive a rejection letter, but it’s not the end of the world. It won’t stop me form writing and it won’t convince me that I’m a terrible writer. I’ve read enough books and scripts to know that my material isn’t bad. But it’s not what their looking for right now. I get that.

I’ve been writing constantly now for a little over ten years. I’ve written two full length plays, five books, eight scripts, and tons of short stories and skits. I don’t know how many query letters I’ve sent and how many contests I’ve entered. It’s become a bit of a blur. I have won third prize for a short story contest and first prize for a novel contest. But that didn’t seem to change my life that much. In fact, it really didn’t change my situation at all. I’m still working 40 hours a week at a job that I can do but am not passionate about.

I’ve read articles written for writers by writers on writing and a lot of what I’m gonna say here may be from those articles but a lot of this is stuff I picked up in the last ten years or so. Of course, when I first read those articles, I didn’t believe much of these hard truths about writing. I think you have to realize a lot of this stuff as you go along. I mean, we all think that we’re special and what happened to others is bound to not happen to me because I’ve got natural talent. And you may have a load of natural talent. But talent only gets you so far.

So, here are some hard truths for beginning writers, for those writers who haven’t come to grips with reality yet. You may not believe that what I’m gonna tell you applies to you, but most of this will apply to you as well. And I’m not gonna number these 1-10 or anything like that, because there is no order of importance. They all apply. So, you know what, I’m gonna number them all 1. That’ll teach you.

 

  • A Writer Writes

 

I don’t know how many times I read this in an article but it’s the absolute truth.  If you want to be a writer, that’s cool. But just realize that when your first novel/short story/script/play is complete, you haven’t arrived. In fact, you may never arrive as a writer. I would hesitate to define what “arriving” as a writer would even look like. Well, I’ll give one definition. When I can pay my bills every month with money earned because of my writing, then I’ll say that I’ve arrived. But in the meantime, I’ve got to keep on writing.

Writing is not something that just comes naturally. You’ll improve the more you write. You may go back to stuff you wrote five years ago and realize just how far you’ve come. You may just work steadily at it and one day realize that you’re better than you were. But guess what? Even then, you need to keep on writing.

Why? Because that’s what writers do. They don’t write one novel and they’re set for life. In this market, in any market, there may be instant blockbuster. But agents and producers aren’t looking for the one big hit. They’re looking for the writers that can continue to produce. And, as a writer, you owe it to your craft, yourself and everyone else to continue writing. So, keep thinking up fresh ideas. Keep stretching yourself. And keep writing.

 

  • Get Used to Rejection
  • Sometimes it’s not you, the writer that stinks as a writer. Sometimes, and I would say this is more often than not, publishers, producers and agents are looking for certain kinds of scripts/novels/whatever at certain times. You may have written an extremely good indie script, but maybe they’re looking for something that can be more big-budget. Sometimes you write something with extremely well-crafted characters, but they’re looking for something action-driven or in a specific genre.

 

Whatever you do, don’t (unless they give you some specific points to consider) take it personally. Yes, this is your baby and you’ve spent months or even years nurturing it, creating it, editing it and bringing it to fruition. But it can’t be your only baby. You’ve got many more children just waiting to be born and nurtured as well. Don’t pour all your hopes and dreams into this one child. The other children will feel neglected and resent you. And no matter what you think, there will be more children.

But when you sit there and pour all of your attention and focus on the one child, when the rejection letters come in (and they will), they will devastate you. They may even cause you to abandon writing. You may think, Oh well, I guess I’m not good at writing. I guess I should take up some other hobby. And you know what? Some people may not be cut out for writing, especially those with thin skins. But if you’re a writer (who writes) then a little rejection isn’t gonna stop this train. And it shouldn’t. Keep writing and pushing forward despite the rejection letters. Sooner or later, persistence is gonna pay off.

  • Only About 5% Will Ever Arrive
  • Okay, so I totally made this percentage up. But it’s a pretty good percentage in my opinion, so I’m gonna ride with it. The writing business is made up of 95% failures/one-time writers/hobby writers. Oh, you’d think the percentage would be higher, but really? Go to a thrift store some time. In the book section, you’ll see a ton of different writers, but there are some names that repeat over and over again.I can go to any thrift store right now and probably be able to pick out 5-10 Stephen King books. But the guy is a writing machine. Not only does he pump them out, but they’re all pretty high quality and very readable. There are others. You could probably name a handful right now. But what they have that you probably don’t have is a writing regimen.  They set aside hours each and every day to write, whether they want to or not. That’s dedication. It’s also strangely like a full-time job…because it is!Now, that isn’t to say that others haven’t gotten jobs writing for magazines or online or for businesses. And maybe, if you are really focused on being a writer, that’s what you’ll end up doing. Maybe you’ll write text books or something. But, unless you have a secret stash of money to pay the bills and allows you free time to write, then writing will have to stay a hobby while you work a 40-hour-a-week job. Taking care of family and bills comes before writing, unless writing can pay for the bills. Unless you don’t want a family. They by all means, focus on the writing and hope the bills never come due.
  • You Need Friends or Associates that Can Freely Critique Your Work

 

  •  What you don’t need (unless you have a friend or relative that’s an actual editor or English teacher), is to give your finished material to friends and family. Yes, your friends and family will tell you how good it is. And they will fawn over you and tell all their friends that you’re a writer. But do they know anything about character structure or plot or thematic elements? That’s why it’s essential to know someone who can freely criticize your work. That’s how you grow as an author.Now, you may be tempted to join a writer’s circle and I guess there’s not too much wrong with that as long as everyone pulls their weight. But (and I’m just speaking for myself here, although…)I rarely think other people’s work is as good as mine. In fact, I can criticize other’s work a whole lot better than I can criticize my own stuff. But (and here’s the kicker) I don’t like reading other people’s stuff. I was a member of a couple script websites where I had to write a critique of 2-3 other people’s scripts before I could submit my own work for critique by three other writers. And sometimes it was really hard going. It was obvious to me that a lot of what I was reading was the author’s first and only attempt at a screenplay.So, not just anyone will do to read and critique yo0ur work. In fact, you may have to pay someone who has the technical know-how to do it If you have no connections. And, if you have the extra cash, this is invaluable. Don’t expect that you’ll pick up on your mistakes and continuity errors or that first-time writers will pick up on them either. And if you pick someone who already has a commitment to you (they may know you and like you…they’re family…they’re your spouse), they may overlook your errors because they just cannot believe you wrote something.

 

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Well, that’s about all I can think of at the moment. If I think of any more hard truths, maybe there’ll be a part two. But, for now, I think I’ve worked out all of my aggression over another rejection letter and am ready to move forward once again. And I went from a Word document to this post and it completely messed up the formatting.  Ugh!  So, keep writing…

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