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Writers and Rejection–some thoughts on motivation

September 7, 2013


Writing and publishing can be overwhelming. Every market is glutted with submissions and they aren’t all by Postman Pete who’s finally gotten around to adding those gleaming zingers on that flash he’s written about a high school breakup, the cool way the leaves change color and stuff in autumn, or how clouds look like things up in the sky. A good many submissions are written by talented writers. People with experience, unflagging aspirations, and original pieces for the marketplace to crush or caress with spine-shuddering indifference.

Publication is a big top under which every writer is a sad clown. Winning a ticket to that circus is no easy task. It gets so difficult at times that I wonder–and am certainly not the first to do so–if this writing game is really more about perseverance than craft.

Perhaps that is true of anything difficult. At least that’s what I start to think. After that, I follow a train of logic suspicious of initial conclusions. It draws me dialectically toward opposing considerations. In this second round of oppositional logic, I remember that I’ve done plenty of difficult things before, yet this one still seems unique. Could it be that those other things were not really difficult? Did they only seem challenging at the time? Is writing the first truly difficult task that I’ve encountered in life?

No. Trust me. No. I’ve scrolled through my experiences with a cold clinical eye and know that is not the case.  The fact remains that writing, editing, and the process of clutching up memory and imagination by the bootstraps–with all that visceral stuff that is YOU clinging to it like soil–and then transforming it into something less personal and more transactional through the alchemy of language and then flinging the resulting fecund, heady, peatmossed heap of it into an arena to scrap for its dear pathetic life against a monstrous, roiling sea of other similar contraptions fighting for their lives…Well, there’s just something uniquely hard about that.

It has a special way of taxing one’s motivations. Writing is hard enough. Publishing is diamond shiny in its hardness. I know that’s a platitude, but it’s also a pathetically true confession. Like this one: I get as many as three rejections a day. Gosh. Where do I get the motivation to continue?

Ruminating the idea of motivation made me think of an adage that many use without attention to its historical context–the carrot and the stick. Most of the time, when we use the metaphor we intend for the carrot to mean an actual reward. We get a sweet morsel like the carrot while struggling through something arduous to help us get through it. But this is never how the carrot was actually used. It was only ever  dangled tantalizingly and never given to the one struggling through some arduous task. It was a reward that predicated finality. The carrot is sweet to the extent that its appearance during the struggle comes to iconically represent the end of that struggle.

So here’s the catch: despite that endlessly returning sense of disappointment, there is no carrot for the writer weary as horses. We secretly don’t want this struggle to end and rejection is but the stream we go a-fishing in. For those strange waters, carrots make the perfect bait.

From → writing tips

  1. I fish with the same aplomb with which I write. I rarely catch anything.

  2. I love your comparisons. Many are steaming a pot of carrots and self publishing.

  3. Writing is its own reward. Submitting work is buying a lottery ticket and the only prize is having a few other ticket purchasers notice that you haven’t updated your bio.

  4. “It’s the journey, not the destination”? Yes and no. I think I really do want the damned carrot.

  5. annelisefeliu permalink

    Thank you for taking the time to ruminate on this. It’s a subject I’ve thought about often, along with “Why do I even write at all?” Oddly heartening.

  6. currankentucky permalink

    Maybe well already have what we want and so our escapades into murky waters will always be fruitless?? However, if this is the case, I better get new eyes.

  7. I think, and I’ll bet you know, my own thoughts on this. Yes, I agree: it’s more of a sharp jab to the spine that causes me to write, than my desire to chase that goddamned carrot. “If it doesn’t come bursting out of you” is a Bukowski-scored understatement. My intestines are all over my work, and my blood is on the pages. I can’t even comment on another user’s status without spilling myself out on it, and I’m just grateful for the opportunity–because I would burst without it.

  8. It’s a competition, and like any competition writing takes talent, practice, and a good deal of luck.

  9. wonderfully compelling and beautifully written. a very interesting read. thanks for sharing. 🙂

  10. Really? You get 3 rejections a day?

    Anyway, balancing on how you want the carrot and the stick is really hard – as you say it, as hard as a diamond. We need both in life in order to grow, but life simply either feeds us the carrot or hits us with the stick in times that we do not anticipate what we expect to come for us. When have we lingered for praise after our hard work but instead gets a scolding as the result of a minor accident? When have we thought of how boring this world is when we become flustered by our own abilities and luck?

    • Good point–and yes about my rejects. Some days it’s even more. I do lots of different kinds of writing, lots of irons in many fires. The flames are hot; the rejections, many.

      • Well, I guess that’s one part of motivating oneself: to try out different kinds/styles of what you love doing.

        Come to think of it, I do have to keep up with that thinking – the thinking that there are so many ways to do what you’re doing. And if ever the stick hits you, it isn’t hitting yet – it’s just poking. Explore is the keyword. Thanks!

  11. Hi Michael, I really enjoy reading your blog posts – I love your style. I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve nominated you for the One Lovely Blog Award. It’s a ‘pay it forward’ kind of award, showcasing blogs to other bloggers. You say a little about yourself and nominate around 5-7 other blogs you like for the award. You can see how it works on my entry here If you want to join in, just copy the logo to your own post.

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