For those of us without many writing credits to our name and audacious enough to attempt longer-length fiction, the mantel of “writer” is heavy and may be hard to own completely once we stick our toes into the competitive world of publishing.
I felt more like a writer when I was working on the early drafts of my novel than I did after the tenth draft. Everything seemed possible then. I took classes and went to writers’ conferences. I looked forward to writing. As I took my morning shower, ideas would bubble up about how to revise a scene or beef up the plot. (Of course, I fantasized about the book tours, the inevitable movie that would follow, the minor celebrity status, but those weren’t the real motivators.)
The imposter syndrome set in when I started querying agents and the rejections began arriving. Yes, there was the odd vote of support—a request for pages or even the full manuscript, a compliment about the novel’s premise—but it was soon followed by more rejection. “It’s just not right for our list.” My QueryTracker page became dotted with small frowny icons, the symbol signifying the end-of-the-line for that agent. Was I not the writer I hoped I was?
The quest to be published sapped my creative energy. I found myself spending less time on anything to do with writing and more on cleaning out my closets and organizing my scarf drawer. (I have rediscovered many lovely scarves so the activity was not in vain.) I got a ton of useful tasks done and did a lot of dancing. These are good things, to be sure, but they were also avoidance activities.
How could I regain the enthusiasm and confidence I had experienced when I was creating new material or reshaping old material into a new form? Over the course of the weeks since I began querying, I decided I needed an attitude tune-up, an “I am a writer” make-over, to keep me on task, build up my rejection tolerance, and not let me lose sight of my original dream.
Here are 15 activities for reviving the writer within, most of which are free or cost the price of a cup of coffee.
1. In lieu of attending a formal “pitch conference,” which entails time and an outlay of cash, participate in a Twitter pitch session. You will need to hone the gist of your novel into an enticing 140 characters. For best results, come up with a few. It’s a chance to see what others are doing and “meet” a few agents without having to change out of your sweats.
2. Beef up your agent query list by researching your favorite authors and seeing who their agents are. On Amazon, look at “people who bought X, also bought Y and Z.”
3. Set specific targets for your querying e.g. five agents a week, researched, instructions followed to a letter, and delivered — and stick to your goal. Preferably, get this activity out of the way at the beginning of the week.
4. Build your support group — other writers who believe in you and who will encourage you when the going gets rough. Your mother or your lover won’t cut it. They will say anything to keep you from being discouraged.
5. Go to readings and ask at least one intelligent, writerly question each time (or at least think of one).
6. Write about writing or books — it is its own form of therapy. If you publish your piece on a blog, it also gives you some writing credits.
7. Look at other writers’ websites and start to design your own. Write your author’s bio. (You have claimed your domain name, haven’t you? If not, do it now without fail.)
8. Meet up with other writers to do your writing related tasks if not the writing itself or go to a public spot with your laptop where other writers congregate — a local coffee shop, bookstore.
9. Revise an old short story and send it out. More rejection probably, but maybe another writing credit?
10. Decide which social media venue is your favorite and post there regularly, keeping in mind that it’s all very public. What personal brand are you trying to establish?
11. Go to a “story slam” and if you are really courageous, get up there and tell a story. Or in your head, critique the stories you hear — how might you have told that story differently?
12. Try a different kind of writing — poetry, flash fiction, the next episode of “Girls.”
13. Offer to critique someone else’s full manuscript to keep your own critical skills sharp.
14. Read a really crappy novel to remind yourself about what junk can and does get published. Read a really good novel to remind yourself why you write.
15. And last, but not least, eat chocolate on a regular basis for its proven uplifting effect. (It also keeps those brain cells sharp.)