Canada’s national men’s curling championship, The Brier, is underway and I’m glued to my television set. Sadly, my favourite team is losing. They are making brilliant shots, putting rocks in impossible places, but at the end of the game, they are one point away from the win. They may even begin the final end in the lead, but lose the game. It’s not fair.
The cry “it’s not fair” is one we all recognize from childhood, but even when we are grown ups, that complaint can play silently in our minds. As writers we’ll see a published book that just doesn’t live up to our standards. The characters are one-dimensional, or the conflict is contrived and shallow, or the plot is too thin to carry the story. Yet here is that book on the store shelf while other manuscripts, our own included, languish unseen and unloved. “It’s not fair!”
My chosen curling team are champions. I doubt they waste much time whining about “not fair.” As athletes they know that failure is inevitable and just one more step to winning. Of course, they’ll have sports psychologists to help them “park it” as the saying goes and step onto the ice for their next game wearing the confidence of champions, not the shame of failure. As writers we can do the same. Here are some suggestions to employ when faced with rejection or dismal sales.
- Use Imagery. Athletes learn to imagine themselves at the top of the podium. They great the image of themselves clearing the high bar, or landing a perfect triple axel, or making the final draw to the button. Writers can imagine their book on the shelf, complete with beautiful cover, and a book-signing. They can go deep inside their own minds to know the satisfaction of penning a beautiful sentence, or crafting a page-turning plot. In other words, use the power of the mind to create a “win.”
- No such thing as perfect. It is easy to focus on our shortcomings — I’m not clever enough, or experienced enough, or dedicated enough, or “I can’t write like Nora Roberts or–fill in the name of your own icon here.” <g> Usain Bolt, widely acknowledged as the greatest sprinter of all time, finished third in the IAAF World Championships in London last year. Even the greatest, are not perfect. You, as a writer, won’t be perfect all the time. You’ll have flashes of brilliance, and with practice those flashes will come more often, but you won’t be perfect. That’s fact, not shame.
- Motivation. Athletes are driven to succeed by both internal and external motivations. Externally they want the medals, the money, the fame. Internally they may want to be the best at their chosen sport. That internal desire to be “the best” at something gives them the drive to work out until they drop from exhaustion, then get up and do it again. It gives them the willingness to sacrifice time, relationships and money to reach the pinnacle of their sport. As a writer, what motivates you? Is it the money? That would be nice, but it is not something you can control. All the external accolades of being a successful novelist, come from others. For motivation that won’t be defeated by rejection, look inside yourself. Do you get a glow when you craft a beautiful sentence? Do you go to bed smiling when you’ve had a good day writing? Use imagery to create those moments in your life as well as the ones that see your book on the best-seller list.
- Learn from failure. Re-read that rejection letter. Did the editor give you a reason why they passed on your book? A favourite line from the rejection desk is “doesn’t fit our needs.” That may look like an easy out for the editor but it might be a hint that you should research your market. Once you’ve had a sulk about the unfairness of the writing world, try reading some of those best-sellers and compare your work to them. What have they got that you haven’t. I guarantee there will be something you can learn.
- Take a time-out. In 1991 Monica Seles was number one in the world rankings and the youngest woman ever to reach that pinnacle. But in 1993 a deranged man plunged a knife into her back. She was out of the tennis scene for two years. In 1995 she won the Canadian Open and six months later, won the Australian open. I would hope that none of us is ever the victim of violence that forces us to take a break from our chosen careers. But it is instructive to realize that even grievous injury did not stop a determined athlete. For those of us with less physical goals, a sabbatical can be helpful. Sarah McCoy writes about it here https://writerunboxed.com/2020/02/25/sarahs-simple-pleasures-sunset/
I’m still hoping my favourite team can make a miraculous comeback at The Brier, but whether they do or not, they are still champions — just like you.