The business of being a writer is inherently disappointing if your mark of success is achieving traditional publication or winning prizes. Although many of us harbour these desires, these glittering goals, the reality is that few writers, even successful ones, end up collecting a pile of accolades. Or sales.
When you’re pre-published, the external rewards from writing can be non-existent. So, as a new writer, how can you find the motivation to continue?
A couple of years ago, I was listening to an interview with an emerging writer who had recently won a prestigious unpublished manuscript prize. She said she entered her work in the competition to see if it was any good. When it was shortlisted, she figured it was worth pursuing. Her comments shocked me. If every new writer needed a prestigious shortlisting, or even a long-listing, to convince them their writing had merit, few would continue for long enough to achieve results.
We all have to start somewhere. Writing is a craft, like any other, and no matter how much natural talent you possess, it takes time to develop your writing skills to the level required to catch the eye of a publisher or win a major award.
All of this got me thinking about what it is that sustains me through the rejections and missed opportunities, the self-doubt and defeat. I’ve blogged previously about the value of long-lists in providing this sort of validation, but they’re not always easy to crack, assuming you’re even interested in entering competitions. Besides, competitions are so very subjective.
When I try to identify what keeps me going, day to day, it’s the small acts of kindness, the tiniest validations, that come to mind. The agent who looked me in the eye and said, ‘You are a writer.’ My gorgeous sister, who consistently tells me she loves the way I write. My mum, who cries over just about every story I email her. And my darling husband, who suffers through my early drafts and still tells me I’m clever.
Lately, a story of mine which took ages to polish, and ages to find a home, was published in an online journal. The response to that story blew me away. So many people, friends and complete strangers, connected with it enough to share it on social media and let me know how much my words meant to them. The amazing flash-fiction writer, Anita Goveas, included it in a list of her favourite short stories of the week. And that, I realise, is the sort of validation that keeps me going. Not the thought of prizes, or publication for the sake of it, but the opportunity to connect with readers through my work.
As a result, I’ve become even more aware of how my words impact others. Writers are usually voracious readers. We can, and should, support each other along the way. It’s so important to tell other writers when you enjoy their work, when it’s meant something to you. Send them an email or a direct message. Leave a review on Goodreads. Share work you love on social media, turn up to events, and tell others what their words mean to you. Because, in this world of rejections and disappointment, small acts of validation can go a very long way.