During the course of one’s career as an author, writer, scribbler, whatever you want to call yourself, there are peaks and troughs. Sometimes, it all works. You can do no wrong. Others, it’s the continuing grind, beating your head against a mountain of rejection letters and the “close but no cigar” message. We continue to do this because of the love, because of the necessity to create and tell tales. Personally, I do this because I have to. To be honest, I also get off on leading a reader up the garden path and then putting them somewhere else, playing with people’s heads.
Nonetheless, in those times when you start to get critical praise, when someone tells you they like your work, then it’s easy for that small gem in the midden of rejection to shine a little too brightly. Award nominations, popularity contests, all of that, we writers are obsessive. We track numbers, we search the web, looking and hoping for that elusive praise, and glowing with it…unless of course you are Salinger.
A good response to your work, however, can become a trap. It helps you think that you’re good enough. A contract from a publishing house can have the same result. One, two, more. Each one is a stroke to that fragile ego. I received a rejection letter the other day, that well, was interesting to say the least. Along with praise for talent, for ability to tell a story, for having something to say, it also basically told me I was a hack, that I had forgotten the basics of the craft. At first, I bridled. How dare this so-called editor say such things about what I had delivered, my gorgeous prose? Well, I still think he was wrong, or at least over the top, but after the affront had dissipated, it gave me pause for thought.
It is easy to become complacent. It’s not difficult to believe those positive things that people tell you and turn a blind eye to the negative. Why? Because it feels good. It’s natural and it’s easy.
If you attend workshops or courses on writing, you will sometimes hear discussion about talent versus craft, about inspiration versus industry. The truth is that it’s both. We never stop learning and refining. An artisan or an artist, it makes no difference, you need to pay attention to your skills continue working on them, regardless of whether you’ve had some success or not. In the end, we have to admit that we’re all hacks. As your career progresses, you develop writing muscles, innate senses of construction, of flow, of phrasing, but sometimes it becomes too easy to sit back and let them do the work. If you start to do this on automatic, it may be far less than it could be. You just simply have to keep reminding yourself and keep on doing it. And that means work.