Writing is not difficult, but it’s hard. All you need to do it is a computer, or pen and a surface that can be marked with ink. Even when that fails, blood from a bitten vein scrawled on snow or earth will suffice. But it’s hard to actually do it; hard to follow the law, the one rule of writing, of any art or craft: Do it every day. Practice makes perfect. Practice hones your skills, helps you find your strengths, find your voice and your characters’ voices, and helps you shrug off bad habits, like adversely used adverbs or metaphors as mixed as concrete whirling down the rabbit hole.

Writing is hard because it comes with boatloads of rejection. Mountains of rejection. Name a great work and chances are it was rejected. Publishing houses turned down (understandably!) Harry bloody Potter, after all. One of the heartening things about reading other writers’ blogs or interviews is realizing this. Not out of schadenfreude, but out of commiseration, out of the sense that hey, it’s okay, even the guy who wrote Beowulf was told “thanks for sending this, but it wasn’t a good fit for us.”

You get to the point where you start celebrating the “personal rejection letter,” in other words one that isn’t a form letter, but comes from a person. A person who says, “seriously, we liked this but we can’t use it. But send more!” These are heartening, even though they’re turn-downs. Because hey! Someone liked your stuff! I’ve been reading more lit blogs of late and I’ve noticed other writers holding these up as lights in the darkness, using them as motivators, as hope. And they should!

I’ve received two of these and I’ve gotten to the point where I’m honestly proud of them. One was even from McSweeney’s, and as it stands, that is my greatest fiction writing accomplishment to date. I may even put it on my resume: “Personally Rejected by McSweeney’s.” Or better, “Almost Published by McSweeney’s.”

I hope this doesn’t come across as bitter or self-pitying, because I’m sincere when I say that. I have a great respect for the literary journal editors who sift through mountains of stuff and try to select the best of the best. That’s gotta be a tough job and most do a damn fine job of it. And I especially appreciate those who take the time to encourage people even when they say “no thanks.” Those letters, as much as success maybe, help sustain.

Writing is not difficult, but it is hard. Because it is hard to sustain one’s momentum, difficult to stare down the blank white page and fill it with black. Because it’s easy to muse about your book and its possibly glorious, hazy future–book deals! And book covers! And ecstatic reviews from Michiko Kakutani! But a lot happens before that, and all of that is sitting down and just getting it done. It’s putting pen to paper, fingertips to keyboard. It’s the scribble of the pen, the clack of keys.

If you do that, then you are writing. You are a writer. Even if your writing never earns you a dime. Even if the only letters or e-mails you get back from journals and editors say “no thanks.” Even if the only thing on your resume is “narrowly not included in an issue of Glimmer Train.”

You are only a failure as a writer if you stop writing.

So, let’s get to it.



Add yours →

  1. 1. LOVE the word Schadenfreude, not necessarily the meaning though. 😉 I learnt abt it at Avenue Q.
    2. Yes, also hard to write something new that has never ever ever been written before.


  2. Ugh.

    So, I’m sitting at a small round table with a laptop open and at the ready. The only problem is I am not alone at the table. There is a kind of poker game going on around me. To my left sits “Well I’ll Just Write Later.” He has a kind of hip look to him but you get the impression he should take a shower. Yet he is remarkably charming. Across the way is “Cool Shit on the television” and her brother “Cool shit on the internet.” They are both assholes but I can’t help hanging out with them all the time. On my right, practically sitting in my lap is “It’s all Been Done Before.” I’m not sure I even invited him in.

  3. ‘Across the way is “Cool Shit on the television” and her brother “Cool shit on the internet.” They are both assholes but I can’t help hanging out with them all the time. On my right, practically sitting in my lap is “It’s all Been Done Before.” I’m not sure I even invited him in.’

    Awesome. I think Cool shit on the internet is the biggest asshole. Because he follows you to work, to the coffee shop, and to the airport. He’ll even follow you onto the airplane these days. I hate that guy.

  4. awesome writing

    ‘personally rejected…’
    ‘almost published by…’

    I was once rejected with a very colourful postcard and a hand written rejection in beautiful script telling me that my writing was ‘very expressive’ but…’ etc. etc. – it was so great to get even that standard comment because it was a had written and sincere comment. I picked that postcard up many times after to look at ‘very expressive’ and stare at the colours on the back.

    This post has made me remember that I got a personal rejection! Thank you for that. I had decided that I was not good enough to be a writer because of all the rejections but now I’m thinking – yeah, you’re right, you are a writer if you’re writing.

    However, as much as your post is bang on targett, Austin, it still does not inspire this mult-rejected quitter… I have to go feed the cats…..

  5. i’m ashamed to say that the key to writing these days seems to be sitting work with that damned excel file waiting in the wings for a quick shuffle forward should management walk by. it’s like taking tea under a guillotine but damn does it ever make the words flow easy.

  6. This is very inspiring! Thanks Austin!

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