“Bow before me, peons!” (a cautionary tale)


I don’t talk very much about writing here, except to whine about how hard Man Bites World is kicking my ass, but I’m going to make an exception, considering.

There is certainly more than one way to succeed as a writer. You can start early or late in life. You can hit the best seller list with your first attempt, or struggle for years to find a groove. Whatever.

But for every way there is to succeed, there are a thousand more ways to fail. You can never start, never finish, never revise, never submit. You can act like a crazy person on your blog, or send query letters that give off such a creepy vibe that the paper might as well have a watermark that reads “Stalker.”

Or you can be convinced that your setbacks are someone else’s fault.

You can see this attitude at various places around the web, especially someplace like the comments at Writer, Rejected (no link, sorry–life’s too short). Other message boards and blogs do their best to squelch this stuff as soon as it pops up, but there’s just no killing it.

I decided a long time ago that I would never blame a rejection on anyone but myself. If my query was dinged, it was because I needed a stronger query. Never because the rejecter was having a bad day, or was a fool who couldn’t recognize my genius, or could recognize quality but only wanted something that would be a bestseller.

That attitude is poison. I wanted to be published, and I wanted readers. Blaming other people for my rejections was never going to get me on the bookshelf, because the only thing I could change was myself.

So I pretended that hard work was the only thing that mattered. I know it’s not really true–there’s also luck, and the changing markets, and talent–but hard work is the the only thing I can actually control. I was determined to improve, and the only way to do that was to find fault with myself.

So my book will be coming out in a little more than three months. If it flops, I will not be blaming readers. I will not be blaming cover art, or publicity, or the recession, or another writer who released a new book at the same time. As far as I’m concerned, the real cause will be that I didn’t write a book readers wanted to recommend to their friends.

If the book does not flop? If it’s a success? Still, I will be looking for flaws in my work. I’ll be working hard to get better, and any setbacks I face will have one remedy: the book I’m currently writing. This is a promise I make to myself. It’s not for anyone else, just me, because anyone, at any time, can find themselves stranded and struggling. And when that happens, an egotistical conviction that my problems are caused by other people will ruin me.