We all fail. It comes as naturally to us as thought and has always been our strongest learning tool. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, sometimes we simply can’t move on from that failure. Sometimes it’s the failure itself, having put your heart on a string. Sometimes its the article of rejection, i.e., the manuscript itself. Whatever the form of failure, oftentimes it can turn into a heavy anchor.
It’s not personal. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard or read that platitude. I don’t take rejections personally. None of them know me, so I find it difficult to take their rejections personally. But that doesn’t mean that they didn’t begin to chip at my confidence and exacerbate my doubt. It took a while for me to understand that rejections are another tool in the writer’s repertoire to help us recognize that something might be wrong with the manuscript. While agents, editors, and publishers might send blanket click-and-send rejections, writers don’t need to know exactly why the manuscript was rejected to glean something useful (although that would certainly help). Despite how we feel about the greatness of our work, multiple rejections can signify that there is something that’s throwing the reader off. If you’re certain that your story is perfect but it receives rejection after rejection, then maybe it’s time to set the manuscript aside and work on something else so you can come back to it later with fresh eyes.
We all write crap. It’s a fact. There isn’t a rough draft bestseller in existence, nor will there ever be. No one will spew out a first copy and send it straight to print. It takes many edits to polish a manuscript so it’s ready to shine, which takes a lot of time. It’s easy to feel a need to justify the time spent, and that justification ostensibly comes through publication; however, there is more than one way to look at justification for time spent. It just isn’t as sexy as a publication—experience. Writing stories is how writers gain experience and improve their craft. On the surface, writing can appear easy compared to training to be a professional athlete, and really there is no comparing the physical dedication it takes to make it to the pros. The individuals that make it dedicated their lives to the profession, adopting a routine that would help them rise to the top in a physically competitive field. Writing is only different in that the field is intangible, invoking images in readers that they will never actually see.
Learn to walk away. Making every story a bestseller should be our goal and we should strive towards perfection; however, we must also recognize that we will fall short of that goal. And that’s okay. Every piece we write helps to improve our craft. But focusing time on any single manuscript will stagnate a writer’s talent. Sometimes a story simply gets to a point where it isn’t salvageable. You might still like the characters, the magic system, or the setting but for whatever reason, the story just took a wrong turn and the only way to fix it would be to rewrite the entire thing. To borrow from a great martial arts expert, it’s time to “break the wrist and walk away”. Doing so isn’t failure; failure is polishing a turd instead of flushing it down the toilet.