Monday, February 22, 2016

The Downs by Robert Lettrick

If life is a box of chocolates then the road to publication is a roller coaster. A wild and sometimes stomach-churning ride full of ups and downs. I haven't always been prepared for some of the downs. I'd already written two books and met my agent before I learned of the wonderful online support group made up of information-generous people who had successfully navigated the pitfalls before me. It took awhile for me to see that the lows are just as valuable to the growth of a writer as the highs, possibly more so.

For those of you just getting started, I’ve compiled a list of five “downs” I experienced over the course of my writing career and some tips on how to make the most of them. 

1). Writer’s Block
When I wrote my first book, I was cruising along, hitting my goal of one chapter every week with no problem. And then came chapter eleven. Evil chapter eleven. I was stuck on chapter eleven for a whole month before finally finding the plot again.
So what did I learn from my torment? Well, two things, really. First, writer’s block is sort of like a tree with shallow roots. If you push against it every day without letting up, it will eventually give way. Second, writer’s blocks aren’t always a bad thing. Sometimes the ideas that come quickly aren’t always best for your story. Writer’s blocks can be your brain’s way of saying “Give me a minute, I’m working on something great.”

2). Naysayers
A few years before I wrote my first novel, I did part-time work for a housekeeping company. I was the weekend window guy. About a month into the job, I was told that the owner was upset with me. On occasion I’d have a story idea and I’d take a few seconds to jot it down in the notebook I carried in my pocket. The boss did not consider this a productive use of break time. It was fine for other employees to step outside every couple of hours to smoke a cigarette, but not okay for me to spend a combined total of ten minutes brainstorming book ideas. Now if you’ve surrounded yourself with supportive people then kudos to you. But maybe you have an influential person in your life who, for whatever reason, is pushing at the back of your knees. If your dream is to someday become a published author then you have to tune them out. Most writers already have the parrot of self-doubt perched on one shoulder, so you shouldn't allow more to roost.

3). Rejection
I didn’t sell my first book. Or my second. And several publishers passed on my third book. Eleven out of the twelve we submitted to, if I remember correctly. We’ve all heard stories of classic books that endured a ticker tape parade of rejection letters before finding a publisher and eventually a worldwide readership. And just imagine all of those amazing manuscripts sitting on shelves gathering dust like the Ark of the Covenant because they didn't get past the industry's gatekeepers.
Rejection is just part of the business. It’s inevitable and it sucks. The thing to remember is that you can’t wear rejection like an albatross necklace. You have to shrug it off. Writing is work. It’s hard, often thankless, but never fruitless. Bookstores are shrines to people who refused to quit on themselves when the going got tough.

4). Bad Reviews
My first Goodreads review for Frenzy was positively glowing. It’s still my all-time favorite. I wish I could say I didn’t let it go to my head, but I didn’t have a Han Solo in my life to say “Don’t get cocky, kid.” And that’s why I was completely unprepared for my second review which arrived a few days later. To this day it's still the harshest I’ve ever received. Imagine the havoc that can play on a neophyte writer’s psyche! I waited on pins and needles for additional reviews to come in so I could find out which reviewer had my writing properly pegged. I stressed because I didn't have a Yoda on my back saying “Train yourself to let go.” I wish I had, because now I realize that bad reviews will only cut you as deeply as you let them. 
We all get bad reviews. It’s bound to happen when you create a product for public consumption. I’m sure at some point Steinbeck received a review from a critic who thought The Grapes of Wrath was too grapy or not grapy enough. 
I’m not suggesting you should ignore bad reviews. It’s just best to think of them as panning for gold. Sift through the dirt, and see if you can find something valuable. And by valuable, I mean anything that will help you become a better writer.

5). The Day Job
Many published writers have sources of income beyond their advances and royalties. I know a few who live off their book earnings, but they’re in the minority. There are others who manage to squirrel away enough money to write for stretches lasting months or even years, but savings dry up, and people need to eat. I have a day job. I’m a crew foreman for a small roofing company. It’s hard, dirty work, but I’m okay with it because it provides me with the level of flexibility I need to continue as a writer. Appreciate your day job because it affords you the opportunity to do what you love without starving for your dream. 


  1. Maybe you should have held a cigarette in your other hand while you wrote in your notebook!

    Great post. I've had all these lows, too, except #2, but I appreciate how lucky I've been in that. I actually know of women who write in secret because their husbands would be angry if they found out (because they should spend that time cleaning the house).

    Maybe one of their husbands was your boss!

    1. Alas, Dianne, my smoke allergy kept me from participating in their frequent cigarette breaks. I was the social pariah with the healthy lungs.

    2. "Maybe you should have held a cigarette in your other hand while you wrote in your notebook!"

      Dianne, ha! :)

  2. Great post, Robert!!
    I love this quote: "Bookstores are shrines to people who refused to quit on themselves when the going got tough."

    1. Thanks, Paul! You're obviously one of those people!

    2. Me too. Also this:

      Writing is work. It’s hard, often thankless, but never fruitless.

  3. "You can’t wear rejection like an albatross necklace." What a great line--and what a great post!

    1. I kind of went nuts with the bird metaphors this time. Naysayers as parrots and rejection as an albatross. It's not at all obviously that I was at Disney's Animal Kingdom Friday, right?

  4. At a temp job I actually got called in the office because while some workers shirked off their work time by chatting, sneaking off into the back room or just longing around during off times, I sometimes when nothing was going on took out a book and read. When I explained to the head what was going on and my misunderstanding that other employees would complain about me he was surprised. After that I did more work back in the back room wile others chatted. Sometimes I chat too but I hardly read again. It's sad that people somehow see reading as either a negative or anti-social. Plus those same workers who complained probably had to go to the back room a lot more often to slack off so their silly complaint back fired.

    Your story is one writers need to read and I'm glad you shared it with us Robert.

    1. It's weird and frustrating, I agree with you, Sheena-Kay. Keep on reading, I say!

  5. I love this post, Robert! Here are the things I've learned over the years:

    1. Even well published authors get manuscripts rejected. They don't just hand out contracts because you've been published before and this goes for the big guys too.

    2. Don't ever submit something until it's ready, as hard as that may be.

    3. NEVER respond to a bad review -- EVER. I've seen authors self-implode online...not pretty and extremely damaging to a career. Understand that an opinion is just that, an opinion. If we all liked the same things the world would be a pretty boring place.

    4. Wear your rejections like a badge of honor. If everything was just handed to us, it would have little value in our lives. My first book was rejected nearly 200 times, but I never gave up and now I have three well received books on the shelves. Never stop trying...EVER!

    Again, great post, Robert. I think a lot of writers needed to read this. :)


    1. All great points, Hilary. I've been tempted to reply to a review before. A prominent reviewer stated that some of the science in my book was proven to be an old wives tale, and I very much wanted to post links to the World Health Organization and other expert sites supporting my premise, but the bottom line is any reply to a negative review is inadvisable.
      And yes to "wear your rejections like a badge of honor"! So true!

  6. Good points. I like your attitude about writer's block. I have over 30 traditionally published books (mostly work for hire), but I've also gotten at least a thousand rejection letters. It's never easy. The question you have to ask yourself, is the hard work and stress worth it? If so, you might make it as a writer.

    1. The successes, no matter how small, make all of the rejections worthwhile.

  7. Great list Robert! A nice mix of the ups and downs we all go through. Definitely surrounding yourself with like-minded folks is a necessity for a writer. We need people in our court! And after many ups and downs myself in getting published, I have come to accept that being a writer is about being rejected - and accepted - over and over. And rejections come around, but so will the acceptances if you keep at it and don't give up.

    I do agree Writer's Block is telling our mind we are working on something undercover. I do lots of things to bring writing back to the forefront: read, watch movies, bike ride, journal, etc. You never know what will unleash the words! Sometimes skipping over a scene and moving to another helps me - and prompts. LOVE my writing prompts! This book has helped me out of a ton of being-stuck-moments: The PLot Whisperer, Book of Prompts, by Martha ALderson.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!