I started trying to get published as a writer in the 70s while I was in college. I was enamored by a new Christian youth magazine called “Insight,” and I tried and tried to get published in their magazine, to no avail. Finally, after receiving half a dozen blank rejection slips in a row, I finally received something that encouraged me. It was another rejection slip. But this time someone–some editor, I assume–took the time to write simply, “Please, try again.”
It was enough. When I had received those blank rejection slips, there was no indication that anyone had even read my stories, much less considered them. With the personal note (from a real, live editor!), I could delude myself that they say at least a glimmer of hope in my writing.
If you’re like me, you have two voices in your head when you’re writing. Sometimes one of them speaks up, saying, “You’re the next Ernest Hemingway; you (and the world) just don’t know it yet. You’ll be a billionaire, just wait and see.” The other one is also there, telling you, “You’re wasting your time! How can you even think you’re a writer? Why spend hours and hours writing these words when you could be making more money washing dishes or serving fries somewhere?” A writer’s psyche bounces back and forth between these two voices regularly, and it’s a wonder that we don’t go crazy trying to listen to (or ignore) these voices.
But I would like to propose that you encourage a third voice to speak up. This one says something like this: “No one ever told you it would be easy. No one ever guaranteed that you would be rich, or famous. But it’s what you love. And if you keep trying, you will get the reward of people actually reading your stuff and maybe even being influenced by it. Think of it! You could leave this world, knowing that someone has a better life because of you.”
Sometimes all we need is a little encouragement. And sometimes we need a kick in the pants. I try to remember this when I deal with student writers. Our student creative writing club on campus, the Rough Writers, is a place where students who love writing came come together for fun, camaraderie and encouragement once a week. I try to be light-handed with these students, offering more encouragement than discipline, because many of them will never take a writing course, and other have never shared their writing in public. I want to woo them out of their shell so that they will feel more confident in sharing what they write.
On the other hand, students who take my writing courses get a dose of both encouragement and discipline. I assume that if they are taking my class, they are serious about growing as a writer. There is a place for encouragement, and everyone needs that. But you can’t grow as a writer if all you ever hear is how good a writer you are. You need to know what to fix.
About a year ago, I made a decision to leave traditional publishing and try my hand at independent publishing. Since that time, I have launched two new novels, one collection of short stories, and a re-release of a Christian suspense novel I wrote back in 2000 that had gone out of print. I never deluded myself that I knew everything about indie publishing, book marketing, or even putting my own book package together. But I have never been afraid to learn, and never afraid to take a few risks. And in the past year I have learned a lot, so much that I am often asked by other would-be indie authors how to go about doing it. I continue to develop a presence on Twitter, and am working on being known on Goodreads as well. I have invested time and money into this project, and have yet to recoup the cash that I have invested.
I would be lying if I told you that I never had doubts. There have been times when I wondered if I had the time, dedication or knowledge necessary to succeed at indie publishing. But I keep trying.
And then something happens to encourage me. Two days ago, I got a check in the mail. It was from Amazon. It wasn’t a lot, but it was the second check for royalties in as many months. What that tells me is that my books are actually selling on Amazon. There’s no guarantee that amount will increase, or that it will even continue. But for now, it is enough to know that I am doing something right.
Sometimes, a little bit of encouragement is all it takes to keep you going.