I am still smiling over Monday's news. I love reading the comments from well-wishers, here and on Lori Benton's own blog about her new contract with literary agent Wendy Lawton. I am thrilled to know that something we did on Novel Matters has made a tangible difference for an exciting new author. To think of those whose kindnesses have meant so much to each of us, and then to know that we have carried that spirit forward... Wow!
But what of those worthy authors among our entrants who didn't win? To think of the times we have all been rejected: "No we don't want your manuscript, no we don't think you have potential, no please do not re-submit - ever. No, no, no. "
And now, however gently, we have said "no" to some of you. Ouch.
Discouragement is going around. You know the dreary economic stuff already. I've seen writers collapsed on benches, slumped over pieces of paper that seemed to pronounce final condemnations on their writing careers.
I said "seemed." Now let me tell you the truth.
1. Even established authors get discouraged. Sometimes they find themselves with book contracts, up against tight deadlines - and discouraged - all at the same time. It sounds strange, but they look at the stuff they're writing and think, "this is no good; the publisher's going to send it back." Once in a while the publisher does send it back. Contracts provide for this.
Sometimes their books get taken out of print. Sometimes they get bad reviews. Almost always they find the life of a published author is a lot like the life of an unpublished author, and this can be disheartening. They're not better looking. They're not more intelligent. They don't suddenly have their act together. In fact, I think my personal act has gotten somewhat less together since I became an author, because my right brain has decided it's going to run things from now on, and my right brain is a mess.
Not only that, but even in good times, few authors make much money, writing. Please tell me you're not doing this for the money.
2. Even with all of that, if you're a writer, then writing is the best thing you can do. Not for money. Not even just for publication. Yes, you want an audience. But your best chance of finding that audience is to write for joy - for the sheer joy of seeing that what you have written is very good. There is no better feeling in the world.
Meanwhile, if you, the unpublished author, want readers, then go out and get some. They're called friends.
Remember The Inklings, the writing group that first heard C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, and J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings? Make your own Inklings. Find some writer friends of like mind, meet with them in a cozy place, and read your stuff.
Bear in mind that people read books, even in bad times. Therefore publishers must publish them. And as Randy Ingermanson once told me, "Those big-deal authors who sign contract after contract? Even they get old and die. They have to be replaced." Doesn't that make you feel all warm and gushy over the possibilities? If you keep writing and keep improving, one day it will be your turn.
Meantime, try to make your writing a sort of prayer, something you do because it pleases God. I've learned - or more accurately I am trying to learn - a lot from The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen. He says we tend to take our identity from what we have, what we accomplish, and what people think of us. But when we view our lives and each other through those lenses, it separates us from one another and from our true selves. It's one of my favorite books.
Let not your heart be troubled. Sit down and write.