The tendency of human nature is to place blame when things go wrong, or even if things don’t go as right as you would like them to. I’m not as successful as I’d like to be as a writer. I produce good novels, stories, memoirs. Therefore it must be someone else’s fault, right? I fall into this pit more often than I’d like to admit, but recently I pondered the situation and came to some conclusions that helped me relax and gain better overall perspective.
First of all, are magazine and anthology editors my enemies? After all, they reject my stories more often than I would sometimes care to admit. Sometimes they don’t give any explanation either. Sometimes one editor rejects a piece and then the next editor accepts it with glowing complements; so the first editor must be crazy, unintelligent, or sadistic, right? Wrong. Editors have many reasons for rejecting stories, and some of them have nothing to do with story quality. They may reject them because the stories do not fit the theme or ambiance of the magazine or anthology, or because they received too many similarly-themed stories lately, or the story is good but it’s just not their particular cup of coffee or tea. Editors are individuals with singular tastes and inclinations. Just because an editor rejects your work doesn’t mean the work lacks merit. That’s why it’s so important to keep stories on the market until they sell. Perusing my submissions log, I see that it’s common for my stories to hit ten to twenty markets before selling. I’ve also sold stories the first time out. You just never know. But editors are not my enemies; they are my allies. When my stories fit their editorial guidelines, strike their fancies, and they have slots for them, they publish them, granting me both a paycheck and publicity. Editors need writers just as writers need editors. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
All right, I’ll let editors off the hook. Maybe it’s the readers’ faults. Are readers my enemies? No, not at all. I need readers and they need me too. They crave good stories, and I need someone to read my stories. Even those who post mediocre or poor reviews are not my enemies. I’m a reader too, and I don’t appreciate everything I read; I have to admit that I usually avoid posting bad reviews unless as a warning or there’s something for others to learn from the situation, because as a writer I understand how discouraging bad reviews can be, but I’m not going to get all bent out of shape if someone says they don’t appreciate my work. Writers and readers are in a human relationship, and not all relationships work if they are randomly matched. They usually work best if people have something in common. Readers are not always turned on by every writer’s work, even if it’s good work. People make choices, have preferences. One problem here is obscurity. Many readers might appreciate my work if they could find it. That’s not their fault. Readers are not my enemies. I need readers; they are who it’s all for.
Perhaps other writers are my enemies. After all, how dare they become more successful than I am, often with much less effort. They must be cheating in some way, right? No. In fact, I have found the writing community overwhelmingly supportive. I have never heard of any other occupation where there is such a sense of camaraderie and willingness to assist newcomers in learning the ropes. Almost all writers realize what a tough game it is and are willing to extend a helping hand. They are not in competition with each other. Especially with the advent of the self-publishing platform, there is room and opportunity enough for all. Other writers are my friends and colleagues.
Then the enemy must be… Myself. It’s the logical conclusion to come to. If it’s no one else’s fault, it must be mine. I must be doing something wrong, or perhaps I have no talent or am not cut out for this. Well, admittedly this one is the hardest to shake. I know myself so well it’s easy for me to come up with all sorts of excuses, shortcomings, laziness, procrastinations, weaknesses, and deep dark sins that can justify my lack of success as a writer. I think these ogres are what keep writers up at night and cause them to despair more than any others. But honestly, I’m trying as hard as I can. I began decades ago. The reason I set out on the road in the 1970s was to find my voice as a writer. I have continued learning and growing and producing through a lot of traumatic and trying experiences. Sometimes I despair, yes, but I have never quit – at least since I took up the torch again about two decades ago after abandoning it for a while due to unavoidable life circumstances. I do my best. The scene in “Good Will Hunting” comes to mind when Robin Williams tells Matt Damon over and over again, “It’s not your fault.” Writers, it’s not your fault that you’re not as successful as you planned or hoped – at least if you’ve been giving it your best shot. You just have to continue to persevere in spite of outward circumstances, in spite of the odds. As long as you keep writing, as long as you continue to strive for your goals until you attain them or die trying, you are a success. After all, there’s no ultimate goal except to express ourselves. We write because we must. We can’t not write. All the rest, the rejections, the acceptances, the fame, the money, whatever, are the fluff and filling, the stops along the way, the bright lights, the dark tunnels, the road signs; they are not the road itself. As writers, we are not on journeys that have ultimate destinations; we are on the road forever.