I remember querying agents for my first novel. I’d gotten some nibbles, some requests for the whole manuscript, but no one had declared undying love for my prose and begged to take me on as a client. At this point, my mother shared the following fun fact: “You know, Margaret Mitchell had forty rejections before someone published Gone with the Wind. You see? You never know when you’ll find a publisher.”
“Mom,” I said. “That’s a terrible thing to tell a writer.”
I stand by that assertion. No writer wants to hear that it will take forty rejections. The idea of weathering that much dismissal causes the sort of anticipatory pain one feels looking outdoors in February, about to enter the booger-freezing, hand-numbing cold.
If you know a writer here are some inspirational things you should never say to that person.
1. Some writers, like Henry David Thoreau, aren’t appreciated in their lifetimes. So it will only require my death for fame and riches to come my way?
2. It took Junot Diaz ten years to write The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. And he won a Pulitzer. So surely my ten-year effort will gain me one too, right? Or a big contract? Or an agent? Right?
3. Emily Dickinson only had seven poems published during her lifetime. And look how many of her poems are in print now! Now she’s dead and famous. Good for her!
4. [Famous author] isn’t nearly as good a writer as you. And yet, famous author is published. Why, oh why?
5. All artists struggle. That’s a platitude right up there with “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and “Everything happens for a reason.” Does anyone take comfort from this?
So there you have it. Inspirational words of wisdom bound to reduce a writer to a foaming at the mouth lunatic or a whimpering fetal ball. The next time you want to cheer a writer, considering giving booze or chocolate or adorable animated gifs. Only monsters don’t like those.