Don’t Quit Before the Miracle by Robin Constantine
We’ve all heard publishing fairy tales, correct? You know, the ones that go something like this: writer has brilliant idea for a story, writes novel in two months, subs novel and within a week has five offers of representation, signs with dream agent, manuscript then sells at auction for a six figure advance and multi-book deal. All of this and the author is like, fifteen. Right? Okay, maybe that’s a bit of exaggeration, but there are many less glamorous variants to this story – your crit partner signed with an agent after three queries, that guy in your SCBWI workshop who only joined a year ago landed a multi-book deal on proposal alone or your friend is fielding movie offers and you just received your fiftieth rejection on your X-Men meets Romeo + Juliet dystopian paranormal. You get the picture.
On my journey to publication I usually had two ways of responding to such stories:
“Wow, that’s incredible! That makes this crazy pipe dream of getting published that much more accessible. If I work hard, that could be me!”
OR on my less enlightened days…
“I wonder if I still have the LivingSocial coupon for that “Skeet Shooting and Brewery Tour Adventure” in my inbox?”
The reality of publishing is simple. It’s hard. Yes, there are a handful of people who it appears to have come easy to but for the vast majority of us, breaking into publishing takes years.
So how to survive those moments when you’re on the brink of “I can’t do this anymore?”
Find Live Support
I’ve met some awesome people via social media but I’ve noticed when I spend too much time on Twitter or Facebook or surfing the blogosphere, I get grumpy and scattered. I rarely feel like this when I have coffee with real, live writer buds. Even lunch with a (gasp) non-writer friend or a phone call home is enough to make me realize there is more to life than a computer screen and a blinking cursor. Face time with real people can help you put things in perspective so that when you go back to that behemoth of a manuscript, you can see it with fresh eyes.
Nope, I’m not being funny here. If you’ve hit that brick wall of frustration more times than you can take, see if you can quit for a week, a month, even a year. Do something else entirely. Sometimes that feeling of “I can’t do this anymore” is just the need to take a break and let your subconscious do its thing. I took a break from writing when my daughter was born because I wanted to fully experience those early years without feeling guilty that I wasn’t spending enough time with her or conversely, that I wasn’t actively working to further my writing career. I didn’t stray far. I still critiqued other people’s work, read extensively and went to conferences. I just treated writing as more of a passionate hobby than the Holy Grail. I knew I’d made the right decision because when she was finally old enough to attend half day preschool, the first thing I did (after I wiped the OMG-my-baby’s-growing-up tears from my eyes) was open up a new Word document and start the manuscript that eventually connected me with my agent.
Focus on the upside of rejection
One of the most critical blurbs that’s still in my mental ‘you stink’ loop reel is from a rejection letter that I received on my birthday one year. Yes, really. My birthday. 365 days in a year and it had to come on that one.
“The writing is just not there.”
Ouch. It hurt. Tears were shed. Teeth were gnashed. I quit. I went to the beach. Ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant and got serenaded by the staff. I slept. I thought about that letter again. I read my manuscript. Darn it. Said editor had a point. Maybe my opening paragraph was a little lazy, the story too predictable, my heroine not interesting enough. I wanted to crumble with this one. Seriously. To this day, it’s still a phrase that my inner bully throws at me when my writing mojo is on the fritz, but I’ve learned to use it to my advantage. It made me determined to put my best on the page, to consistently improve, to do everything in my power to make my writing sing. In short, it made me a fighter.
Surround yourself with Inspiration
My tattered copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is usually within reach when I’m working at my desk. If I’m feeling particularly low, I can open to a random page and find some writing wisdom that makes me see things from a different perspective. Sometimes, it just makes me laugh. (In particular the chapter titled Radio Station KFKD). Maybe you find your inspiration in a song, or a long walk, or a quote from one of your favorite writers. It may feel hokey, but having a mantra even as simple as “I can power through this” can help you get back on track if you’ve lost your way. A favorite of mine is “Don’t quit before the miracle.” – I can’t really attribute the quote to any one person because I’ve heard it used so many times in sports and inspirational venues, but it’s a good one and can be applied to the very looooooong waiting game that is trying to break into publishing.
Understand that it Takes Years
This is different for everyone. I’m on the higher end of the “how long did it take” spectrum. I joined SCBWI in 1996, so you do the math. At one of the many conferences I’ve attended over the years, I heard someone say the average time for a writer to break into publishing is seven years. I know someone who took about three. Guess what? It’s not a contest and less time certainly doesn’t mean less work. Publishing is a notoriously glacial business. Understanding that is half the battle. Selling a book or getting a book deal doesn’t mean you’re done. You’ve only just begun. You are in it for the long haul, no? Cultivate patience.
Accept that it Might Not Happen for You
This is a hard one, and I know it sounds harsh and counterproductive, but real talk time: you can do everything right and still not land an agent or a publishing contract. Just think about it for a moment. Let it wash over you. In a weird way, realizing this, made me feel less pressured to ‘make it happen’. And while sometimes pressure is a good thing, living your life under constant pressure of “If I don’t do this, my life will amount to bupkis” is an unhealthy way to go through the day. Undaunted? Congratulations. If you can accept this and still want to write that story…I truly believe with a deep well of determination, a wish or two on the right star and a little thing called luck…you’ll find your spot on the shelves.
About The Author
Her YA debut, THE PROMISE OF AMAZING, will be released in 2014 by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
Website | Twitter | Goodreads
About The Book
Grayson Barrett was the king of St. Gabe’s. Star of the lacrosse team, top of his class, on a fast track to a brilliant future—until he was expelled for being a “term paper pimp.” Now Gray is in a downward spiral and needs to change, but doesn’t know how.
One fateful night their paths cross when Wren, working at her family’s Arthurian-themed catering hall, performs the Heimlich on Gray as he chokes on a cocktail weenie, saving his life literally and figuratively. What follows is the complicated, awkward, hilarious, and tender tale of two teens shedding their pasts, figuring out who they are—and falling in love.
Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads