Once upon a time I wrote an article for an online magazine. It went over pretty well. The relationship I described therein has blossomed, and my wife and I work together on quite a few occasions to best the challenges of a particular game. I thought that might be worth writing about.
And then, along comes Chuck Wendig.
It was like practicing your kicks in the dojo and thinking you’ve got what it takes to achieve the next belt when this unknown guy smelling slightly of bacon and gym socks strolls in, crane-kicks you in the mouth, swipes your water bottle and walks out with your girl.
If you want to be a writer, you better get used to it.
One of the few things I carried with me from my brief stints of studying fencing & the martial arts (no, really) is that there will always be somebody better than you. Somebody will be faster, beating you to the punch. Somebody will have better, more powerful delivery. Somebody’s already hit the rhythm that’s been eluding you all the time, and once they’re in that groove they’re not getting out of it.
Because, in the case of writing, it’s going to pay them.
All writers deal with rejection, but on top of that is seeing other writers succeed. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s great for talented writers to be getting work. We know how much it sucks to go without food. Seeing people who actually know how to string words together feed their families on the power of their words is heartening.
It’s also saddening because we haven’t done it yet.
I was asked by a friend “How do you keep writing?” It’s a complex answer, and this is part of it. I’m motivated by ideas I want to put into words, by the notion of making a living with my chosen art instead of just living for it, and I want to be one of the people who actually makes it.
It might never happen. I may simply get one rejection after another until I’m laying on my deathbed still spinning ideas and outlining novels that will never get published.
But if I stop trying, I might as well ragequit now.
We can’t all be Chuck. We can’t just splatter gold onto the desks of editors and directors all over the place. And even if it looks that way, it probably isn’t. Every writer that seems to be effortlessly earning cash for words had to go through the same wringer of rejection and depression we are. And guess what? It’s persistence that got them where they are.
If we persist, if we work through those rejections and hardships until we finally get where we want to be, there will be other, lesser-known, unpublished voices looking up from their dayjobs and their pretentious little blogs wondering how the hell we make it look so damn easy.
How do I keep writing?
I see where I am, and where I want to be. There’s a gap in the middle that needs to be filled with words. They won’t always be the best words, or even particularly smart ones, but the more words that go into that, the closer I get to my goal. And yes, someone out there somewhere might have done what I’m trying to do better than I have. Then again, maybe my work will be just different enough to distinguish itself. As much as I admire George RR Martin, it’d be foolish for me to try and be GRRM. Same goes for Chuck, David Hill, Will Hindmarch and Marty Henley. They’re all great guys. And I can’t be them. I try to play in the same field they’re playing in, I’m likely to get blown clear out of the water.
I keep writing to carve my own niche. To push myself to stand out from the crowd. To become an author on my own merits, with my own ideas, distinguished in my own ways.
I keep writing because as much as the world is flush with stories, mine has yet to be told the way I can tell it.
And I keep writing because I have to. I’m compelled to. At least in choosing writing over heroin, I’m nowhere near as broke as I could be. And I’d be frothing at the mouth for reasons completely unrelated to my daily frustrations.
I’m not saying you should abandon all hope of succeeding, if you’re writing or want to be a writer. Far from it.
I’m saying you should abandon all hope if being able to praise a fellow writer without, to some degree, cussing incessantly under your breath.
Just remember: as much as your teeth might hurt today, tomorrow you might be the crane-kicker. Get up. Dust yourself up. Wipe the blood from your face. And keep hammering those words.
You won’t get anywhere laying there feeling sorry for yourself.