March 25th was a day for tears of happiness and tears of disappointment. I’m not sure if there is another contest with the same emotional punch as the Golden Heart. We all want to be the best writers we can be and have our efforts validated by being named a finalist. Unfortunately, we can’t all be at the top at the same time. It’s not a testament to our abilities so much as the reality of statistics. Two of my great critique partners finaled in the Golden Heart and several other equally talented writers in my group didn’t. In my opinion, they all deserve the recognition. And I believe some day it will be their turn to receive it, but this year isn't their year.
Being named a finalist is a wonderful experience, and I don't want to take anything away from those being honored for their hard work. The Golden Heart can be a spring board for an author's career, but not making the finals has never kept anyone from becoming published. If you didn't receive the call last Friday, your dreams can still come true, but only if you keep going.
Watching my daughter learn to ride her bike yesterday, I was reminded that once we didn’t allow setbacks to be a personal statement about us. We didn’t believe a scraped knee meant we were inadequate children, and we should park the bike forever. When we were learning to walk, we didn’t allow multiple falls to dictate our mode of ambulation. We stopped crawling, stood and took another chance that this time we wouldn't fall. Our first steps were wobbly, but our muscles grew stronger and before long we ran. When evidence pointed to failure, we kept going. We need to tap into the resilience we had as children, because sometimes there are more setbacks than successes in a writer's world.
Here are six ways to mentally withstand the bumps associated with pursuing publication:
Set realistic goals. Writing is a craft. It requires hard work, continuous learning and practice. To expect to final in the Golden Heart early in your career is like expecting to run a marathon when all you’ve done is run around the block. Don't set this as a measurement of your abilities as a writer. Runners add blocks until they meet their goal of running 26.21875 miles (42.195 km), and they don't compare their progress to others'. They compete against themselves for their personal best. The same goes for writing. Measure your progress against your earlier writing. Exercise your skill. Enter other contests to polish your GH entry for next year. Someday you’ll either be a GH finalist, or you’ll be published and can enter the RITAs instead.
Look for secondary gains. Everyone hopes to win when they enter a contest, but look for something else you can get from the experience. Sometimes you receive great feedback. Even if all you get are scores, you can check your manuscript’s vital signs. Did three judges give high scores and one gave a low one? That tells you 75% of the judges think you have a good thing going and the fourth one doesn’t get you.
Keep a running list of your successes. When a situation doesn’t go as we’d planned or hoped, it’s easy to get focused on other things that haven’t gone well in our lives. We can get down on ourselves and only see our past failures. One year for work we had to list everything we’d accomplished that year. It took a while to recall the good things I’d done for our department, but seeing the list made me feel good about my contributions. Don’t wait until you’ve been kicked in the head to make a list. Keep a running total of your accomplishments then pull it out as a reminder that you’ve been successful in the past.
Challenge your negative thoughts. “I’m never going to be published.” “No agent is ever going to like me.” “My writing stinks and my friends are too nice to tell me the truth.” “I’m just fooling myself. I have no talent.” These thoughts have gone through my mind at different times throughout the process of becoming a writer. I’m sure I’ll think them again at some point. Thank goodness I like to argue, because that has pulled me out of a funk more than once. When I thought, “I’m never going to be published,” I argued everyone can get published if they’re willing to stick with it. When I told myself, “My writing stinks”, I re-read the letters I received from Textnovel readers asking how they could get the rest of my story. I pulled up the file I keep with positive comments I’ve received from contests. The truth is some people like my writing, and it was just a matter of finding the right publishing professionals for me.
Watch your language. Some people might say I’m splitting hairs, but I don’t like to use the word rejection. One definition of the word means to throw out as useless or worthless. What a negative association! The changing of one word might not seem important, but the way we think about events affects us emotionally. I choose to think of an agent as "passing" on my manuscript, or if I’m feeling sassy, I say, "This agent lacks the insight to recognize my brilliance." LOL. That’s just a joke!
Have a Plan B, C, D, E, F… Clarissa calls it the spaghetti method where you toss a bunch of queries out there, knowing some are going to stick. (This comes from testing if the noodles are done by throwing one against the wall. If it sticks, it's ready.) Catherine sent out ten more queries for each “no thank you” she received. Disappointment from bad news is lessened when you discover a request from an agent in your mailbox later that day. I guess what I’m trying to say is not to put too much hope into any one thing working out. Maybe you’ll even be thankful later that everything didn’t work out the way you’d planned. This was the case for me about eighteen months ago. When I didn’t final in a contest after being in the top for weeks, my spirits suffered. It was the only time I cried in this process. But what seemed like a curse at the time turned out to be a blessing when the publisher sponsoring the contest began to have financial troubles and stopped paying their authors. Try to have faith that your path will lead you where you need to go.
What are some ways you’ve learned to beat back disappointment and stay on the road to publication?