Recently, I talked about how writers are forever doubting themselves, always comparing themselves to their own future potential successes rather than concrete accomplishments, creating a permanent class of (neurotic) fantasists, in more ways than one.* Just to prove my point, I also want to talk a little about how writers can believe in their work (if not themselves) to a degree that normal human beings would see as highly narcissistic, but which we know as a mere survival skill. Everyone knows that to make it as a writer you have to develop a thick skin; fewer know that you further need to develop the patience of Job at the end of a really bad week.
After you write a story, you submit it to a magazine (or a novel to a publisher). And then you wait. Nowadays, there are sites (like the Submission Grinder) which allow you to see average response times, so you have something to fret about when your story out is an hour past that point. (Kind of like teenagers.) This is a vast improvement over pre-email times, when you didn’t even know if your sub had been received, let alone when it might come back. But 95% of the time, you do get a response (which may well be much later than statistics would indicate, but that’s another topic). And 95% of the time, that response will be a “No, thanks.”
As you progress, that number improves, but we’re talking about stories that come back. And go out. And come back. What do you do with those? After a few “no’s” you re-read it. You tinker. You re-sub. It comes back.
Eventually, you have a choice: Keep subbing, or “trunk” it. Every writer has a “trunk” where stories go into deep storage. (Occasionally, one is brought out again years later and re-tooled.) If you truly believe in the story, you keep subbing. And this is where you need patience, because if you love your story that much, and no one else does, then you need to find it in yourself to keep pushing it. And you may keep pushing that story for years. Or decades. I have one story that sold only after collecting 35 rejections over 25 years. But I loved it, and I believed in it, and in the end I was right.
How can someone whose professional self-worth is built on tomorrow’s successes keep so much faith with yesterday’s (let’s be honest) failures? Beats the hell out of me. Maybe we’re just so obsessed with a better tomorrow that we’re willing to change yesterday to get it.
Or maybe we’re just that into ourselves.
*I also talked about how I had carved an additional 12% off a story that I had previously cut, I thought, to the bone. That story came back a few days later with a polite note expressing to me the reader’s belief that the story was too long. You can’t please everyone.