Writing is probably the most proper form of masochism outside of having the flesh on your back ripped open by leather whips or having your balls stepped on in seven inch, thigh high, leather heels. It’s one of those things where you’re perpetually trying to reach these goals that you’re incapable of. You want to take everything you love about everything that has ever influenced you and package it all into one complete, perfect project. Something that speaks towards everybody’s worldview while vibrating with meaning, without plot holes, continuity issues, etc. Neurotically laboring over whether these are the right words or if there is a more poignant way to say things. Stressing about variety. Moving things around. Adding. Subtracting. Not reaching for the phone or opening up a new tab in your browser.
Eventually, you accept who you are and what you’re capable of, which is a block of words of indeterminate quality. Once in a while, you write a paragraph and can’t believe those words fell out of the sky and onto your fingertips, enthralled by your own genius. Other days, the cursor on your word document blinks at you impatiently, waiting for some violent burst of poetry until your laptop automatically goes to sleep and you’re left staring the alcohol-bloated countenance reflected in the smudged abyss. Maybe you’ll pour your disparity into an essay that you’re proud of and actually get it published onto a respectable platform, only for the sole person to engage with it wanting to show you how you can make $6,863 a month from home like he does.
When you finally feel competent enough, you tattoo yourself to your desk chair a couple of hours a day for a few months or years and begin to scratch out your Great American Novel. Words begin to add up and you’re impressed with your workload. Plot holes open up and you take a deep, enervated breath, scraping fifty pages of Act II. Drafts fly by and at long last, you alchemize what you thought was impossible at the beginning of this journey: a completed manuscript. You finally finished stitching that flag that you can stick into the earth and let everybody know that you existed.
As much of a triumph you’ve experienced completing what will become the next NYT’s bestseller, now comes the grueling task of convincing everybody else that it is. This is the querying process. This is where you try to summarize the complex brilliance of your work into a paragraph and send these emails off to sit at the bottom of the slush pile. For the uninitiated, “the slush pile” is a term for the queue of unsolicited submissions from every next great author trying to pitch their novel to literary types. This is where you bank it all on being able to spam your way into the right person’s interest. After studying a myriad of agents, reading their interviews, stalking their Twitter timeline, liking the picture of their Hamilton playbill on Instagram, and sculpting your query letters to their specific requirements, you might be lucky enough to receive a “Dear Author,” form rejection letter.
“Subjective” is a word you’ll get to know your way around pretty well.
“Publishing is an extremely subjective industry,” “agenting is immensely subjective,” “this is a very subjective business,” “reactions to fiction can be so subjective,” and all the other variations of gatekeepers telling you that your work isn’t for them without trying to injure any feelings. These are the recurring phrases bookended on every other rejection letter.
Losing control of a dream bothers most people, especially when you already made that major step towards making it happen, but the only thing you can do in this situation is mutter a few curses at the computer screen and keep repeating until you reach fame or exhaustion. You google ‘biggest book deals debut novel’ and look up property in a few different price ranges on Zillow, reaching for palliative ruminations to comfort yourself for a few hours. You want it all: the acclaim, the financial security, the European abode, whatever was in Marcellus Wallace’s briefcase, you want it. The email alert on your phone dings and you’re fumbling around with the passcode, exhaling sharply, and unsubscribing from yet another mailing list you don’t remember joining. The querying process will force you to employ patience. Sometimes you won’t hear back from an agent for months. You weigh up different scenarios in your head. Maybe an assistant decided to do a little spring cleaning in the agent’s inbox and your submission is lost before it ever even had a chance. Yet still, you resist the urge to nudge too soon because nobody wants to be annoying.
On your daily checkup of Publisher’s Marketplace, you see that Lady Luck is sleeping with another author. A new six-figure deal has been tolled out after a 9-publisher auction. The film rights were also sold. “I can’t believe the type of bullshit they’re going for.” You chain smoke Newports until they make you sick. Maybe an agent requests a partial or full manuscript and that’s enough to buoy your anxiety for the next couple of weeks. That is until they decide that you have a relatable and sympathetic narrator, but ultimately didn’t connect wholeheartedly with his story, and now you’re back to square one, scanning through #MSWL hashtags and getting lost in the tornado of Twitter pitch contests.
Your aspirations are fading away. You question your talents and wonder if you’re spending too much time chasing reveries and fantasies. Do you revise this novel that you’re already tired of looking at? There are typos in the first act, the second act is kind of slow and the third feels kind of rushed. It could probably benefit from another draft or two. Is it fiscally responsible spending so much time chiseling away at this dream? Maybe you should just surrender to the fact that you’re not as important as you want to be. Maybe you should just go back to school and get certified in something. Live an average life and continue playing scratch-offs and quick picks. No flags stuck in the ground to prove your existence or indelible marks on society, just one hundred and seventy pounds of matter that pays taxes until you’re cold in the ground, real estate for maggots.
These are the hurdles in trying to turn a hobby into a profession. Trying to turn a profit out of something that you used to just use a forum to express yourself. This is, to coin a phrase, rejection depression, which is a little different from, to coin another phrase, getting-drunk-near-train-tracks depression. It’s giving up control and letting other people have sovereignty over your dreams. This is where most people realize how harmful expectations can be and turn into a bitter shell over it, wishing they spent their 10,000 hours doing something different. Regretting wasting their youth. This is the part where perseverance stalls.
But the most crucial thing to do is remember why you got into this in the first place. How important the art of putting words together has always been to you. How much you enjoy watching that spark in your head turn into a wildfire. How impossible you though it was to even craft a novel until it was done, regardless of the fact that there was never any promise it would make it outside of that glowing rectangle. The only proper way to stay strong in the face of failure is to form a sophisticated palette for rejection, continue pushing forward and know that this isn’t the only idea you’ll ever have. Realize that it just isn’t your time yet. The truth will always be that there is a finite amount of spots and a stampede of like-minded creatives trying to reserve one for themselves. But the idea that it could possibly happen allows you to do something productive and keeps you from wasting your life feeling like you only exist to do things for other people. Everybody won’t become the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, but you’re constantly losing ground to lesser talents by not even trying. With a little persistence, there’s no reason why you can’t eventually claim a slice of the pie for yourself.
As all the agents say after rejecting your masterpiece, I wish you the best of luck in your search for representation.
But even more so, I wish you the best of luck in your search for happiness.