A Note on Persistence and Optimism

This past February, I lost a self-published adult fiction contest. There were only sixty-six entries, and Devil’s Blood didn’t even make it into the top twenty. Want to know how I felt? Awful. Dreadful. Worthless. A failure. Hopeless. Like a old sack of potatoes not good enough for anything but the garbage dump.

It took a a week to get over those feelings – I spent that weekend in a morbid depression, wallowing in my failure, repeatedly telling myself that I wasn’t good enough; the middle-aged librarians that judged the contest deemed me unworthy of my “writer’s” mantel.

I did get over it, eventually. I admit, that first published version of Devil’s Blood was not as fine as it could have been. I see that now. But, this message goes out to all those struggling writers dealing with this hurdle. When someone tells you that your writing isn’t good enough, they aren’t saying that you aren’t good enough, but that your current craft isn’t at it’s top game. It is not a personal insult.

I  believe that this also comes from our society’s thinking that everyone wins. I hate to break the news to you, but that’s not how real life works. We all can’t win all the time. There are no gold stars for participation. You want something, you work for it, you earn it.

In the immortal words of the brilliant Dr. Seuss:

I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
that Bang-ups
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.

You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You’ll be left in a Lurch.

You’ll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you’ll be in a Slump.

And when you’re in a Slump,
you’re not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself
is not easily done.

If you haven’t have the pleasure of reading his Oh! The Places you’ll Go! please go find a copy. That “children’s” book has more life advice than any how-to or self-help book ever published.

The craft of writing evolves as the writer writes, reads, and studies. We learn new ways to say things, new ways to add details, and ways to avoid the boring same-old ways to say things. Learning how to make each sentence pop isn’t something to be taught in a how-to book; it comes with practice, patience, an open mind, and optimism.

Devil’s Blood was not good enough to win that contest, but it could have been. My next novel will be better, and the next after that will be a little bit better than that one. Who knows, maybe if I enter the contest next year I will soar to the top of the charts and take the cake. It’s hard to tell.

To all the aspiring and struggling indie writers out there, stay strong, stay positive, and even if you let yourself wallow for a while, don’t forget to climb back up. You won’t go anywhere if you let yourself drown in your sorrow and woes. We get knocked down. We rise up. We learn. We adapt. We change. We turn out stronger and better than before.

Remember, Rule #5 – Optimism.

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