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The Writer's Middle Finger: Part Four (When You Lose Hope, or Hey—Don’t Aim That Thing at Me!)

You don’t have to be an unpublished writer to lose hope. It happens all the time to all sorts of writers. Maybe you’ve just received your 50th agent rejection letter, and no matter how many times you read the “I really liked the writing and the premise” part, all you can see is YOU SUCK AND I HATE YOU.

 Maybe you’re on submission and you’ve just received your 20th rejection from an editor, and no matter about the fact that your book went all the way to the editorial board, all you can see is OUR MARKETERS SAY THEY CAN’T SELL THIS, THEREFORE YOUR BOOK IS STUPID AND WILL NEVER SELL. (Though I find that one especially annoying. If a plumber said that he couldn’t figure out how to put different types of pipes together, you’d hire another plumber, right?)

Maybe you’re a published author and your house told you that they won’t buy your next book unless you take out the spaceships, and the book is solely about spaceships. Or that your editor has been fired and the new guy hates all spaceships. No matter the fact that you’ve published X number of books, got rave reviews, landed on lists, all you can hear is YOU WILL NEVER GET ANYWHERE IN THIS BUSINESS BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT NORMAL.

I hear a lot of writers talk about how they lose hope mid-way through writing a book. “This sucks!” they say. Boy have I been there. I’ve been in nearly all of these situations. (No spaceships yet, but that’s coming, I’m sure.)

 When You Lose Hope 

So what do we do when we lose hope? We find hope. And how do we do that? Of course, I’m going to tell you to use your writer’s middle finger. The thing is—when hope is lost, that finger is often on vacation. Perhaps it’s seeing Europe by rail or lathered in oil down near the Equator. Most likely, though, it’s right there on your hand, mocking you.

Yes, you. Your finger on your hand, mocking YOU. It’s telling you that you’ll never find an agent, or a publisher. It’s telling you that you’ll never get a freaking break in this business. It’s telling you that you are a horrible writer, and that you should go back to college to become a biophysicist, like your uncle told you to back in 19XX. It will say anything to save you from this roller coaster of self-esteem and heartbreak. It is being logical and practical.

It is full of shit.

If you’re writing books, you probably didn’t get there by following logic. It just happened one day, right? You read a book that inspired you to a degree that you couldn’t NOT do it. You had always dreamed that you’d try, so now you’re trying. There is nothing logical about writing books. Not as an aspiring writer, and not as a published writer. It’s a crazy thing to do, really.

Hey—Don’t Aim That Thing at Me!

Your writer’s middle finger is here to support you on this crazy path, yes. But it will test you when you lose hope. It will turn against you the minute your brain has the first speck of doubt. It will mock you to make sure you’re serious. This business is not for the weak, the lazy or the easily-spooked. Though doubt is a normal part of the process, you can’t do it too much, or else you will never finish writing a book, never query enough agents, and never write another book even though there really was nothing wrong with the last one.

I’d like to stop here for a minute. You read that correctly. There are plenty of fine books that are never published. I can’t tell you if yours is one of them, but it’s a fact. Yours could be one of them. And I’m not talking first books here. I’m talking about this happening any time. There are people who’ve been on Oprah’s book club who have had to put beautifully written books back into the drawer. It happens.

Who’s to say that book won’t one day see the light of day? You don’t know. I don’t know. By the time the day comes, you may say, “No way is that book coming out of that drawer.” This has just happened to me, actually. It’s not that the book in the drawer is awful. It isn’t. It’s a good book. It’s just that the book in the drawer is old. It’s been in there with seven or more other books that are far inferior and frankly, they’ve rubbed off on it. But the good part for me is: I don’t really care. When I put the book in the drawer, I broke off our relationship and moved on. Since then, I’ve written four other books. That’s what writers do, right?  

Well, it’s what we do when we have hope. When we don’t have hope it feels like the worst thing in the world because we feel like fools. Foolish dream-chasing twits. We say things like, “Oh man, did I really say that books are like snowflakes? That I wanted to make a blizzard? Gag me with a Drano-dipped spoon.”

Mocking yourself and doubting yourself and beating yourself up are all normal things. You just can’t do it a lot when you’re out of hope. You might start to believe yourself. You might talk yourself out of the coolest job (whether paid or unpaid) in the whole freaking world. That’s when you need to turn the finger around and point it out again, build yourself a safe little middle finger fort where you still rock, and no one is mocking you.

You may be completely crazy (you probably are) and illogical and impractical and stubborn and delusional, but you’re on a mission, remember? Write what you want to write, write well and write often. Cry when you have to, swear a lot and try not to aim that thing at yourself, okay?

 

 A.S. King’s short fiction has appeared in a lot of great journals and has been nominated for Best New American Voices. Her first young adult novel, The Dust of 100 Dogs, was published by Flux in February 2009 and was an ALA Best Books for Young Adults pick, a Cybils Award finalist and an Indie Next List pick for teens. Her next novel, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, is due in October 2010 from Knopf.

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