One of the most important challenges you will have to overcome as a writer is dealing with criticism and rejection. So I thought I’d share my own personal strategies for moving past rejection.
When I made a living as a writer, I received the worst criticism of my professional career; it made me realize I was burnt out on writing and I quit for a few years. During my break from writing, I realized I don’t need external validation to be a writer, or for my art; and that has changed everything for me. I’m now writing more courageously than ever before, despite dealing with more rejection and criticism as a creative writer than I ever did as a journalist.
You are a writer whether you are published or unpublished. You are a writer whether you are self- or traditionally- published. You are a writer no matter how many book sales, fans, and readers you have. Please note, I did not say you were a good writer. I did not say you have talent. The point of this blog post is not for me to step in the shoes of your mother to give you a gold star for effort. But you don’t need skill or talent to keep writing. The only way to get good at a skill is not through some innate genetic gift bestowed upon you by the touch of God, but through hard work. You are a writer if you write, and you will become better at the craft the more you write.
So if you write, and write, but no one buys your books, and you can’t sell your work, does that mean it’s not worth doing? If you don’t have readers, and if you can’t quit your hated day job to live your glorious fantasy life as a working writer, is it a waste of time? I don’t think it is. If that’s why you write, you may want to question your motives, because Stephen King is a unicorn, even for traditionally published authors. You’re not less pure if you write for commercial reasons, but as a business model, writing fiction is a lousy one. There are a lot easier ways to hustle. Write technical manuals or advertising copy or website code instead; it’ll be way more satisfying from a business standpoint.
Write because it brings you joy. Write because you have a story to tell that is screaming to crawl out of you. Write because you want to make an impact on the world. Write because you want to entertain yourself and others. Write because it’s stress relief. Write because by the hard work of unburdening yourself of your pain, you can write more authentically and touch other people.
If it pays your bills, write because rent is due and you need to meet your deadline to survive. Most of us don’t make our living exclusively from fiction, though; if you say you do, you’re probably not telling the truth about your teaching, editing and freelance gigs that supplement your fiction sales. If writing is such an obligation, why are you spending all these hours on it? Is it all for the approval of some stranger? If you can answer the question of “why,” then you can view feedback on your writing with a more objective lens.
For me, I write to leave a legacy. My words are the way I make a difference. I want to entertain people. I want to get published because I want to have a wider readership, but if my stories stay in my hard drive forever, I would still write, because I’m the most important reader. If I’m bored, then my readers will be bored.
I find my validation from within. I can be happy no matter what city I live in, what job I have, or who buys my stories. I can be unhappy because of all these things, but these external influences do not define me. I realize that what anyone thinks of my writing says nothing about my worth as a person; I can’t be everyone’s cup of tea, in life as in writing, but I can learn from their criticism and use it to improve my craft. I can ignore it and move on if it appears to be nothing but a personal attack. On the other side of that coin, even though writing is a solitary act, feedback is important to grow. You know that you will have reached a more mature stage of your writing life when you reach out for critique groups and beta readers.
If you change the narrative you tell yourself about criticism, then reader feedback can be useful, instead of damaging. And no matter how you want to get your work out in the world, you’ll have to tell yourself a story about why you want to write, and why your writing matters. That will carry you through all the ebbs and flows of the writing life. It has for me.