Blood, Sweat and Fears

Recently I’ve been encountering an odd phenomenon in the writing community.  New writers are afraid to submit their work to publishers and agents.  I’m coming across more and more writers who are writing away only to put their work in the bottom drawer without ever showing it to someone.

I understand the fear element to submitting your work.  Writing isn’t a day job.  It’s a passion.  You put your blood, sweat and tears into a piece of work you believe in and to have someone say they didn’t like it is a dagger to the heart.  I’ve said it before—no one goes out of their way to write a crappy book on purpose.  Someone’s “sub par” work still represents their best effort and no one should forget that.   

There’s a lot of potential in that unread manuscript.  It’s unseen and unknown.  It could grow up to be anything.  But the reality is that only a small percentage of manuscripts will end up on a bookstore bookshelf.  So I understand the fear.  A rejection letter could dash a writer’s hopes and dreams.

But rejection letters are part of the business.  I can’t say I like receiving them.  Each one feels like drop kick to the nuts.  And with over 600 rejection slips from magazines, agents and publishers over the years, I seriously doubt my ability to father children.

So avoiding the pain of rejection and possible failure makes sense.   

But, at the same time, not submitting that manuscript is a tremendous waste.  Why put all that effort into an enterprise and not see it through to the end?  That’s tragic.  That’s something to fear.  While there is the very real possibility that a manuscript will be dismissed without a second thought, there’s also a likelihood that a manuscript will be embraced and published.

What is there to fear?  Wounded pride?  A dented ego?  Yes, but there’s really nothing to lose here.  So, the book or story never gets published—at least you tried.  But the story doesn’t end there.  You still have options—give up, resubmit elsewhere, edit the hell out of it and resubmit, or write something else.  There’s no dishonor in giving up.  You gave it your best shot and it didn’t work out.  Try something else.  Giving it a second shot means having to put in all that hard work again with the possible outcome of failure again.  But even if you sell the first book, you’ve got to write a second…and a third…and a fourth.  You’ll have this agony all over again.

Being afraid of submitting a manuscript is a real mistake.  The old saying about the only thing to fear is fear itself rings true here.  So, if you have a manuscript lurking in your bottom drawer that you’ve never sent out to anyone, then do it.  What’s the worst that could happen?

Stay scribbling,
Simon Wood

12 thoughts on “Blood, Sweat and Fears

  1. JT Ellison

    Simon, you’ve hit on a topic that is timely for a lot of people. NANOWRIMO participants will be finishing their newborn titles on Thursday, and I’m sure many of them are wondering whether they should submit their work, after it’s brought to manuscript length and polished, polished, polished, of course.

    If you don’t submit, you’ll never be a writer. Don’t take rejection personally, and persevere. And print this column out as a reminder..

  2. Lorraine T.

    J.T., I’d like to revise one of your last sentences. “If you don’t submit, you’ll never be a writer.” I’d change it to, if you don’t submit, you’ll never be published.Because writers write, published or not. For me writing is an addiction. This AM, I’ve written morning pages (a Julia Cameron suggestion) and a journal entry.I have my stack of manuscripts in a drawer and my file of rejection letters, but neither of those things have “cured” my compulsion to write.Lorraine

  3. JT Ellison

    Lorraine, you’re right, but for the sake of argument (because it’s Thursday and apparently I’m procrastinating instead of working) let’s say that if you aren’t read by someone else, you aren’t “writing” but journaling. Is there any truth to that?

    Someone once told me you’re not a real writer until you get that first rejection. It’s funny, because once I received my first, I felt like I’d been initiated. By fire and humiliation, yes, but initiated nonetheless. After that first one, I didn’t pay much attention to the rest.

    Regardless, what I said was certainly not meant to be a slam, but an impetus to get those newbies among us who are leery of submission to get past it. Share your work. Feedback, good, bad or indifferent, makes you a writer.

  4. Steven

    I’m ambivalent about this. There’s no way to know if the stories being held back aren’t just the worst stuff. Only the writer has a clue and they seem to think it’s not that good. Often writers are right about this sort of thing, no? I say this because we too often hear the opposite of this – agents and editors claim to see way too much stuff that really isn’t readable…

    Of course, one of the best ways to figure out whether the story is good or not is to submit it to a few places. I find this is also a good thing to do in order to be able to cut one story lose and start another.

  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I read this column early this morning and have been thinking about it all day, not exactly sure how to respond. You’ve really hit on something here, Simon, because I know SO many great writers who just back off at the point that they should be pushing the hardest.

    I know one thing that’s made me a professional writer for all these years is that I have a ridiculously thick skin. It’s not that I don’t love puppies and kittens and it’s not that I don’t get hurt, and hurt deeply – but at the same time there is a big part of me that DOES NOT CARE what people say – I KNOW when something I write is good and I know there are plenty of people who will as well, and you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and I think it’s better that way.

    I wish I knew what to say to people who are this scared about submitting, but I find I don’t, except this, and it may not make sense to anyone but me.

    When you start dancing, your teacher will always tell you that you can’t be afraid to fall. If you’re not falling once in a while, you’re not trying… you’re not DANCING. And all that happens is you hit the floor. Yeah, it hurts, and it might be embarrassing, but anyone who’s done it for any amount of time knows that falling is just part of the whole process. You get up and keep going.

    Everybody falls. Everybody. I say this not harshly, but with love: Get over it.

  6. Lorraine T.

    Some of you “talk” like getting one’s work read is a “piece of cake.”I think you may be passing over a step or two. None of my rejection letters hurt one iota because they were all rejections of queries to agents, not of the actual manuscripts. Form letters, “not what they are looking for at this time” kind of things.My work is read — by friends and relations, who just love it, naturally.Lorraine

  7. pari noskin taichert

    Really good post, Simon. It’s got me thinking . . .

    I wrote for years without the desire to get published. The discipline, the will to improve, to tell a good story — were all there.

    While the test of submitting is important, I don’t believe it’s a prerequisite for calling oneself a “writer.”

    I came to this conclusion after giving many presentations and booksignings. When I ask people if they’re writers. Inevitably, a couple of heads bow and those attendees respond, “Well, I haven’t been published.”

    I don’t believe that publication is the be-all, end-all. For many of the people I meet, it’s the act of writing, of getting it out of one’s head and onto paper (or computer screen) that matters. It’s for personal satisfaction . . .

    I think sometimes those of us who are published put too much emphasis on crossing over to the dark side.

    BTW: 600 rejections? Holy cow.I’ve got about 150-200 and thought that was a lot.

  8. Elaine Flinn

    Lorraine – nothing in this business is a ‘piece of cake’ – I don’t think that was meant to be implied. We’ve all faced rejection – and yeah – it happens more often than not. ‘Being read’ also means getting the work out to others-even if that’s a writers group or a fiction class.

    And Simon’s right-don’t give up! I’m sure you’ve heard that over and over – but it’s true.

  9. Ron Phillips

    Nice article Simon. I agree with J.T., being published doesn’t make one a writer, we just write whether professionally or personally.

    I connect with your sentiment though. I personally feel my inability to finish or jump that hurdle to find an agent/publisher stems from fear. Fear of failure and also fear of success.

    I’m going to conquer the fear of failure, and if lucky have a chance at success.

  10. simon

    Ron & Others: It does depend on your goals. If you are content writing for yourself, that’s fine. But if you want more than that and you’re holding back–don’t.

    And to clear up one small point. I never wrote, you’re not a writer if you don’t submit.


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