The Disease of Writing

Against the disease of writing one must make special precautions, since it is a dangerous and contagious disease.” Peter Abelard, 1079-1142

In almost any given year, you’ll find James Lee Burke resting comfortably on the best seller list.  But his start wasn’t so promising.

After publishing three novels by the early 1970s, Burke went through a thirteen-year dry spell in which he could get nothing published.  Then, in the mid-1980s, he sold a collection of short stories and his novel The Lost Get-Back Boogie, which had been rejected by 93 editors over an almost ten-year span.  When published, it earned Burke a Pulitzer nomination.  A string of best sellers has followed.

But if Burke had gone the way of many frustrated novelists and screenwriters, he would never have made it.  I’m talking about the ones who quit writing when things don’t go their way.

And if ever anyone had reason to quit, it was James Lee Burke. Ninety-three rejections on one novel?  Believe me, that probably represents just about all the publishers at that time.  But he never stopped writing.  Nor should you.

Discouragement for writers often comes in two fashions:  (1) you’ve finished your book or script after months of pouring your heart and soul onto the printed page, and now no one seems to want it; and (2) you’ve hit an obstacle while writing and now you can’t even seem to finish.

The response to these discouragements always seems to be the same:  you quit writing.  What a shame!

So how do you deal with the disappointment of rejection letters from agents and passes from publishers and production companies?  You start by learning to measure success, not in dollars and cents, but by satisfaction in a good story well told.

How do you deal with the urge to quit, to never finish what you started?  By learning to love the process.  If you love the process – if you love the turn of a phrase, putting a visual image onto paper, creating characters and their dialogue in a world of your own making – then you will persevere.

We all have stories to tell, each in our own unique voice. Learn from the rejection, but don’t allow your voice to be stifled just because you haven’t achieved commercial success.

Tell your stories!  Tell them even if you never receive a dime.  Tell them even if nobody listens.  Eventually you will find your audience, even if it is only yourself.  The success comes from telling the story.

And the world will be a richer place for it.  “Achilles exists only through Homer.  Take away the art of writing from this world, and you will probably take away its glory.” Francois Rene de Chateaubriand, 1768-1848.

This is likely different than anything you’ve ever done before.   It’s different than what most people have done before.  As has been said many times, everyone wants to have written something, but very few want to write.  If it were easy, anybody could do it.  But only writers write!

So, as Samuel Morison said, “First and foremost, get writing.”  It’s contagious.

%d bloggers like this: