For the Love of the Game
I was interviewed recently by my local newspaper regarding The Iron Ring (psst! Buy it! Review!) and also about my win in the Writers of the Future Contest (pre-order!). It was a great interview and the reporter did a really thorough job (I’ll post here when the article is in print, never fear). I enjoyed it immensely. One of his first questions, though was a question I get a lot and a question, that, I imagine, a lot of writers get asked. The question was this:
Does it hurt when you get a rejection?
Everybody wants to know this. They hear famous author X had their brilliant manuscript rejected Y times and they wonder “how did they keep pushing? How did they know to keep going?” The odds of being successful as a writer seem so bleak, so hopelessly improbable, that each rejection seems like it ought to be another nail in the coffin of your authorial aspirations. Yet, somehow, we press on. So, again: doesn’t it hurt?
This question, I feel, has an answer in two parts. Firstly, yes, it does hurt. It hurts less and less the more you are rejected, mind you – you build something of a resistance to that unique kind of pain – but it always knocks you off your kilter a little. The longer you’ve had to wait for that rejection and the more of yourself you’ve poured into the thing being rejected, the worse the pain. It ranges from something like a slap to the face to a full-on punch to the guts so hard it makes your breath whistle through your teeth.
The second part of this answer goes like this: It doesn’t matter if it hurts. Anybody seriously considering writing knows that it is not a path to fame and fortune. Pick any ten authors out of modern book store and at least eight of them still have day jobs. They take up all their free time writing not because of the glory of it all, but because they simply must write. They aren’t going to stop just because somebody said they stunk. They’re going to get back on that horse to get knocked off again. And again.
Even if you do get to the “yes” and score yourself a book deal or get an award or something (so, like me), you haven’t succeeded yet. You aren’t done. The real work is just beginning. I’ve still got a day job and I’m working on two separate novels at the same time. In the next two weeks, I need to read 3 novels, grade about 140 pages of student work, teach full time, and turn around the revisions and final copy edits of Book 2. I’ve also got a wife, two small children, and a dog who deserve a little attention. At some point I should sleep and perhaps eat.
And I haven’t, by any stretch of the imagination, made it.
Some people seem to think that writing has some kind of finish line, that it’s a race you can win and then stop. That isn’t how this works, folks. You aren’t writing to win a race. You are writing because you love running. You can’t expect to stop.
This reminds me of a little story I read in Nick Evangelista’s The Art and Science of Fencing. It goes something like this:
A student of fencing traveled a great distance to meet with a great master to see if he had what it took to be great. The fencer showed the master everything he knew, pushing himself as hard as he could. When he had finished, he waited to see what the master would say.
“You do not have the fire.” The master said.
This was like a dagger to the student’s heart, but he could not contest the word of a master. The student gave up the blade and moved on with his life, eventually prospering in business.
Years later, the student encountered the master again. He took the opportunity to ask him how he knew he lacked “the fire.”
The master shrugged. “I didn’t, but if you did have the fire, it would not have mattered if I said you did not. You would have continued learning, no matter what I said. That is the fire.”
I think I have the fire. To be a writer, I think you need it. Rejections be damned.