I get knocked down but I get up again

By PJ Parrish
Last week was a good one.
I finished a chapter of the novella, nudging it up past 17,000 words. I got a nice little royalty check that will keep my dogs in kibbles for three months. I turned in my edits for the next Louis Kincaid novel on time –- and the copy editor wrote this note on the last page: Great story! I’m so glad I was able to read it early. I truly enjoyed all the twist and turns. I haven’t read Louis Kincaid stories yet—but now I’m going to go back and do so!
This week…not so good.
Got some bad news about an upcoming project. Lost a foreign publisher. Can’t get any traction on the concept for the next book. The formatting on our Kindle eBook keeps screwing up the paragraphing. And some anonymous weasel-boy trashed us on Amazon.
You’d think after more than a decade at this writing biz, I’d be immune to the ups and downs. But I’m not. I still get discouraged and swing from ecstasy to agony. And like the cliché goes, I still go to bed some nights convinced I’ve used up all my good ideas and that the fraud police will cart me away in the morning.
I know I’m not alone. I know all writers are like crabs without shells, that the slightest kick, the smallest snub, sends us into spasms of self-doubt. I know this so well that it is part of every writing workshop I teach. Get out now, I tell those who wish to be published, if you can’t take criticism and rejection at every turn. Your queries will be ignored by agents. Your manuscripts will be turned down by editors. Your book will be snubbed by reviewers. Barnes and Noble won’t carry you. You won’t get a paperback reprint. You’ll be remaindered.
Jim Hall put it in perspective for me once. His newest book had just come out to glowing reviews. One day, riding high, he was in B&N and saw a woman reading the first pages of his book. He couldn’t resist and went over to her and said, “I wrote that.”
She said, “So?”
Rejection and dejection. How do you cope?
How do you keep your head above the waves as you tread water? How do you keep putting one word in front of the other every day until you’ve finished that lonely journey of eighty-thousand words? I don’t have the answer but I have learned this much:

You find support

I’m lucky; I have my sister and co-author. When one of us is on the ledge the other talks her off. If you’re alone, then you need to find others who understand what you’re going through. You need someone who knows that when you’re staring off into space yes, you really are writing. You need someone who will slap you upside the head when you’re whining, tell you the truth when you’ve lost control of your plot, and buy you two really strong martinis when you get dumped by your publisher. This someone is usually not your mom or spouse. They love you too much, poor dears.

You focus in not out

It is easy to get eaten up with envy in our business over who got the big contract, who got the award, who got the prime Saturday panel at Bourcheron when you got the 9 a.m. Sunday slot. You have to tune out all this noise. When I was just starting out, one of the best pieces of advice I got was from Jan Burke. “Keep your head down and just write your books,” she said.


You have faith

You have faith that you love the process and that you would probably do it even if no one paid you another dime and had to stand out on the Kindle corner and give it away. You have faith that some agent out there will read your proposal and take you on. That some editor will feel the same way about life that you do and buy your manuscript. You have faith that, despite all the bad things going on in publishing right now, that readers still need good stories. You have faith that you can still write them.
And if that doesn’t work? I will personally buy you that martini. And remember: There’s always the wise words of that great eastern philosopher Chumba Wamba:

21 thoughts on “I get knocked down but I get up again

  1. Great post. The ups & downs are really hard sometimes. Jim Hall’s story is priceless & utterly amazing, but not in a good way. Talk about cruel & nasty.

    The way I cope with the valleys is to constantly remind myself that the only thing I can control is my writing. I’ve learned to write for my enjoyment, like I started. Before I sold, I had to ask myself–if I never sell, would I still spend all this time writing? When I realized my answer was YES, I knew how much writing meant to me–and always would.

  2. Ah yes, the fraud police. I’ve installed motion detectors and surveillance cameras to give me few minutes warning before they rush my house and break down the door.

    How do I cope: I never take anything personal. And like you, Kris, I’ve got a co-writer to balance the act.

  3. Indeed, Kris, every writer needs a layer of rhino skin. The nice thing is, writing is the best way to cope, so you’re killing two birds with one keyboard. You’re getting out of yourself and into your stories.

    When you are down about your writing, pound out those words. Dennis Palumbo, in his book Writing From the Inside Out, says “Every hour you spend writing is an hour spent not fretting about your writing.”

  4. Oh, did I LOVE this post, Kris! It’s definitely going into the +Pocket. Head down, keep moving. It’s more difficult for someone to hit a moving target.

    I have a one-size, fits-all response to the naysayers which I can’t print here. You couldn’t use it anyway.:-)
    Crude, but effective.

  5. Thanks guys. You give me courage to tackle the blank page today. (It has been whiter and longer than a Michigan winter!)

    I have a tendency to hole up when things are on the downswing. And that is maybe the worst thing you can do. So Sunday I went to a book signing for my friend Sharon Potts. It was so invigorating to be among “family.” Ditto here!

  6. Great article! The publishing industry has changed so much, and that’s just in the last few years since I began attending conferences and hearing all the details… so many frustrating hoops to jump through, and there are no guarantees. I remain in awe of writers who keep on going (like the Energizer Bunny) despite the hurdles. But as Jordan said, when you realize you’d continue writing no matter being published or not, you know you’re doing what you were meant to do.

  7. I have a way to work with rejection and bad news that seems to work pretty well for me. First thing the in morning, before I brush my teeth or have my coffee, I walk barefoot into the living room where my son has scattered legos across the floor, stomping as hard as I can but not giving volume to the screams of pain. Then I go to the kitchen, stepping gingerly so as to keep the bloody footprints at a minimum, take the meat tenderizing hammer and mash one of my fingers. Then I grab the little squeeze bottle of lemon juice in the fridge and squirt it into my eyes. Once the crying, writing, screaming, bleeding stops, I step into a nice soothing shower full in the knowledge that it is highly unlikely anything worse could happen to me all day.

  8. PJ, thank you for the great article. As someone who is only really just starting out on this journey, it’s good to know the pitfalls I will face along the way and how to deal with them.

    Jordan, I just asked myself that very question. Thankfully, the answer was also yes!

    Cathy, congratulations on finishing your book and good luck with the next step.

    All the Best.

  9. I’m honored to be included in this lovely post, but must give credit to the person who gave me the advice — legendary music producer Bones Howe. Although he works in a different art, the advice he gives is solid for all who create. I met him through his wife, writer Melodie Johnson Howe. Bones has a Web site page with other good advice http://www.boneshowe.com/PoorBones.htm

  10. Jan,
    I had the good fortune to sit next to you at one of the first MWA meetings I went to. My first book had just come out, I had just read “Bones” and was star struck. You were very kind to me. Thanks for coming over for a visit today.

  11. I have to try Basil’s Lego therapy – we have enough of it at our house, that’s for sure! Otherwise, PJ, I just focus on the next book. As Jordan says, the only thing we can control is the writing. I also console myself that almost every bestselling writer out there has a battle story or two:) I definitely do not have rhino skin but I do have an adorable dog who lets me snuggle with him anytime:)

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