Pursuing a career as a writer can be hard on your self-esteem. It requires incredible stamina, faith, and unbelievable amounts of patience. Here are some things I like to remind myself of when the urge to give up is strong.
No Means ‘Not for Me.’
First what no DOESN’T mean: No does not mean never. No does not mean this book is terrible. No does not mean you’re a terrible writer. No means—drum roll, please!— not for me. Publishing is subjective, at the mercy of both market trends and the personal taste of agents and editors. Lots of people turned If I Had a Gryphon down because they don’t like rhyme. Gordon Korman has a great anecdote about receiving a B on a story that ended up being his first published novel. It’s not about you or your ability, it’s about finding the right fit.
Fallow Seasons are Okay
The worst advice I’ve ever heard is ‘a writer writes every day.’ This idea is unsustainable and a product of toxic hustle culture. I used to panic about this, watching other people publish amazing books or tweet about their daily wordcounts (please don’t do this). At a particularly low point I thought my career was over; that I had nothing left to offer and it was time to move on. The truth was I burned out and needed a break. Singers go on vocal rest to protect their instruments and teachers need time off in the summer to recover. Use your fallow season to refill the well—go for long walks, listen to new music, read, and consume culture without agenda. Inspiration, like plants, needs time and tending.
Writing is So Much More Than Drafting
Expand your idea of writing beyond drafting. I used to think if I wasn’t writing clear, successive sentences then I wasn’t writing. I was confusing drafting with writing, which is only part of the process. Brainstorming, talking a plot out with a friend, jotting down ideas you’ve always wanted to develop, working out a timeline, going for walks and thinking about characters, watching old episodes of Midsomer Murders to get you in the zone for your British murder mystery— all these things are part of the writing process. When you add them into the mix, you’ll see you’ve been doing a lot more writing than you realized. On a related note…
I am Further Along Than I Think
This is especially true for the so-called ‘pantsers’ out there. Writers who don’t write from an outline, plan, or clear idea of where they’re going—hi, it’s me. I’m the problem, it’s me—often underestimate just how far they’ve come. Occasionally, I step out of the weeds, look back at my notes, check my wordcount, and acknowledge that while I may be a way out from the destination, I’m firmly in the middle of the journey.
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Why Not Me?
I’m stealing this from Mindy Kaling. In my defense, you cannot copyright a title. You don’t need top marks in English Lit, an MFA, years of experience, or permission to write. The best way to hone your skills is to start writing and keep writing. Editors and agents are actively and aggressively seeking new and interesting voices—why not yours?
Trends Come and Go Quickly
Trends are fun! It’s exciting to refresh your wardrobe with an au courant accessory or tweet about your characters’ sun, moon, and rising signs. But by the time a trend is taking over, it’s already too late. Some trends are cyclical (I see you, vampire fiction) and others have more staying power. For example, I consider graphic novels more of a shift than a trend, whereas YA thrillers, a response to domestic thrillers, is a trend that is reaching the eleventh hour. Write something you are proud of, regardless of fickle cultural preferences. Trends are like Canada Day fireworks: loud, splashy, and brief, meant to shine brightly then expire. If you miss them, there’s always next year.
I Will Not Read My Goodreads Reviews
I could tell you stories about how groups of people go in and tank certain authors’ ratings by leaving one-star reviews or authors paying for fake five-star reviews, but my point is anyone can leave a review on Goodreads without having to prove that they’ve even read the book. There is zero accountability on this platform and so you should give it zero percent of your time and attention.
The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Vikki VanSickle is the author of a number of acclaimed novels for children including P.S. Tell No One, Words That Start With B, Summer Days, Starry Nights, and the 2018 Red Maple award-winning The Winnowing. She has also written the picture books If I Had a Gryphon, Teddy Bear of the Year, and Anonymouse. Vikki started her career as an independent bookseller and spent 12 years working in children's publishing. A devoted member of the Canadian children's book world, she curates and presents regular book segments at CTV Your Morning and balances her writing with arts education for all ages.