Why Do I Do It?
When I was much younger, I wanted to be professional soccer player. My favorite team was the now defunct Pittsburgh Spirit. I loved going out in the yard and kicking my soccer ball all around the grass. I imagined myself scoring the winning goal in the championship game. I loved it so much that I joined up for my school team. As it turned out, the talent I had in the yard against invisible competitors didn’t carry over to the field when the action was live and the people real. Never mind the fact that I failed to realize actual games lasted more than the half hour I would play in the front yard. It was real work to play a full game, and that wasn’t my thing. I just couldn’t keep up, and in the end, I didn’t really want to. I ended up sitting on the bench most games and passed out the Gatorade to the better players. I did this for one full season and then retired the cleats for good. To this day, I don’t know why I didn’t just go back to playing in the front yard and dreaming the biggest of dreams in my head like I did before. I mean, the joy of just kicking the you-know-what out the ball was what I really liked. I should’ve just returned to that. But I quit completely because I wasn’t recognized as having talent or doing anything great on the field. I have never kicked a soccer ball since.
Now this article isn’t about quitting and giving up, rather it is about establishing and identifying what your true goal really is. I am sure you’re asking yourself: What does my quitting soccer have to do with finding your true goal? Well, maybe it has nothing, but then again, maybe it has everything to do with it. Quitting is very similar to rejection. When you quit, you are rejecting something. We writers know everything there is to know about rejection. It’s an everyday occurrence for me in some shape or form. Maybe its an idea I’m rejecting, while other days it’s an actual rejection letter from an agent or editor.
I wrote my first story around the same age I started soccer. I showed it to nobody as it wasn’t very good, but I kept writing. In the early stages, I didn’t open my work up to critique out of fear that it wasn’t any good. I was worried that I would quit just as I did with soccer. I so wanted to have talent, but I didn’t want to bear the thought of someone telling me I didn’t have any. So I kept things incognito and wrote in silence.
When I was much older, and after I got married, I decided that I wanted to try to be a writer. I wanted to be published. I wanted to see my name on the bookshelves. I had practiced my craft for years, surely by now I was ready and had done enough to warrant being published. Those years of sitting alone in my room scribbling on tablets made me want people to recognize what I had done and the talent I surely cultivated. I started sending my work out. But was I prepared for the outcome of such an act? Not at all.
The rejection letters piled in. Over the first few years of sending my work out, I got thousands of rejection letters, and each one hurt a little more. I could hear them saying: “You’re no good. Just quit. Give up like you did in soccer. You have no talent.” The editor or agent writing the letter didn’t mean for his/her words to hurt, and deep down, I knew they weren’t rejecting me as a person. It was purely a mental thing. But I couldn’t keep myself from dwelling on each and every letter. I read them over and over again searching for some nugget of goodness to attach to. I never found one. I grew frustrated. I ended up quitting writing just as I quit soccer all those years ago.
Two years clicked by without me writing a thing, until one-day things changed. My then 12 year-old son found one of my manuscripts. He liked it, and he was exactly my target audience. I was thrilled. His words made me try again, and they also made me think differently. Rejection letters still poured in like rain through a ripped screen door, but my reaction was different. The words on the page didn’t hurt anymore. Why? The answer is simple: My perception changed. In the time I stopped writing, I gave up on the entire “being published” thing and learned the true reason for writing. It is not for the agents or editors that I write; it’s for the little boys and girls of the world. It’s to make them smile, laugh, and even cry sometimes. When I write now being published doesn’t even enter my mind. Sure, it’s still a goal that I’d like to happen, but if I’m not happy and content without it, I’ll never be happy and content with it. In the end, I write to make me smile.
Writing and being published are two very separate things. One can be a writer without being published, but one can never be published without first being a writer. It’s the latter that we should all strive to be—the writer. Sounds simple, right? It wasn’t to me early on. I thought being a writer meant you had to be published. I was so focused on the end result or “the prize,” I neglected or forgot about the love for the thing I was doing.
I still write today. I still send out submissions. I still want an agent. And I would like to someday be published. But I no longer write just to be published. I can be a writer and a very good one without ever being published. One day, I am going to leave this earth. And when I do, there will be stacks of manuscripts waiting to be read and enjoyed by those who love me most. And that is enough.
So if rejections bother you to the same extent they did me, ask yourself this question: Why do I write? The answer may surprise you. Stop focusing so much on the end goal and just enjoy the moment. Live in the pure joy that you created something special and unique. The rest simply doesn’t matter. Don’t let the rejections stop you from doing what you love to do. Perhaps one day I will get to see my name on the bookstore shelves. Perhaps you will too. But if not, knowing that we just wrote a great story should be good enough to keep the blues away.
Thomas Wright is a writer of middle grade and young adult novels. His first book Ansburry Tales: The Redeemer was published in 2013. Book two of this five-part series is scheduled for release in 2018. Other completed projects include a YA novel, Catching Tomorrow, and a middle grade series entitled, The Adventures of Spikehead and Fred. He currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with his wonderful family and far too many dogs.