I thought my novel, The Leaving Year, was done when I started my “final” round of queries to agents and publishers a year ago.
Now that I’ve been turned down by everyone who had expressed interest, I’m going through yet another major edit of a book that has already taken six years of my life. In the words of that Dolly Parton song, 9 to 5, “It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it.”
Thank heaven for creative friends. I don’t belong to a writing group, but I’m able to call on a small circle of friends who are writers, artists and musicians, as well as a much larger group of online supporters (Thank you, She Writes!). They understand what it’s like to pursue dreams that require us to be both sensitive AND thick-skinned. They understand the pull, elation, grind and the frustration of the creative process. And they understand the disappointment of having work rejected — and the need to keep going in spite of it.
No, we’re not delusional to do this. Yes, our work matters.
That was the take-away from a recent conversation with two creative soulmates. In sharing our disappointments, we found camaraderie and hope.
One has been journaling, writing poetry and making up stories for decades, in addition to painting and doing collage – also with words. Her dream is to write and illustrate a children’s book, but the idea of submitting her work for publication scares her to death.
Despite encouragement from family and friends, she doesn’t think she measures up. “You have to be really, really good to do rhyme. It takes a lot of time and work,” she said, repeating the daunting feedback she got from a published author who had read one of her poems.
“I’m embarrassed to say I don’t believe in myself,” she said. “You have to be courageous (to put your work out there). But I think I’m getting closer.”
My other friend sang professionally for many years so she’s no stranger to rejection. She recently found a passion for painting landscapes and has produced many beautiful renditions of scenes and landmarks from her travels. Recently she was encouraged to apply to have her paintings shown in a gallery. She had high hopes, but the panel of artists evaluating her work turned her down.
“I was confused and hurt initially, especially since I was one of two chosen to present,” she said. “Funny how life will then restore confidence, first through friends and supporters, then by chance.”
She went to the open house at the Asian Art Museum and was inspired anew. “I saw the great force influencing my style,” she said. “I’ve got my mojo back.”
Even though I have no stake in my friends’ projects, I was genuinely relieved to hear that both of them had found a way forward. And I don’t see that bond weakening should one of us break through and achieve success, however we want to define it. I’m relatively sure we would all continue to support each other.
Writing coach and independent publisher Brooke Warner stresses the importance of building community in her guide, Green-light Your Book: How Writers Can Succeed in the New Era of Publishing. She lauds “literary ambassadors,” like author Elizabeth Gilbert, who work to pave the way for other writers.
“Another person’s success does not lessen the chances of your success,” Warner writes. “There’s enough to go around.”
She suggests that aspiring writers ask themselves the following question: “Why am I the person to be writing my book?
Applied more broadly, Why am I the person to be creating this painting/sculpture/piece of music/dance/poem/essay? Because my experiences and inspirations are unique to me. No one else can express them quite like I can.
To quote my singing/painting friend: “For all of us, it’s about answering the creative call and doing what we do. That sharing takes many forms and inspires us to keep going.”
What about you? What keeps your creative flame lit? Where have you found support? While you’re thinking on that, here are some words of wisdom and inspiration from several literary ambassadors who have helped me.
“Do whatever brings you to life . . . . Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” — Stephen King
“Trust in what you love, continue to do it, and it will take you where you need to go.”
― Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.”
― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life