I’m not sure who originally said it or where I first saw it – Joanne Harris tweeted it in 2017 – but it’s been on my mind this week. And it seems to sound at least a little better than “You’re going to be writing for the rest of your life.” That’s more like a prison sentence.
I’ve been thinking about it based more on how much of a process writing is and how long the timeline stretches. For a single piece, you’re conceptualizing, drafting, rewriting, submitting, revising and resubmitting, getting rejected, getting to the next step for more revising and resubmitting, and – eventually, if you’re lucky – proofing something and seeing it in print. It takes a long time to get something from inside your head to in front of other people’s eyeballs.
When I was in grad school, they cautioned us about it in another way: if you’re tenure track, go for many articles instead of one book. If the book falls through (and they do, for all kinds of reasons, during different steps of the process), then you have nothing. If a single article stalls out, at least you have others.
It’s one of the reasons to always have multiple projects in process, all at different stages. Some of those stages are a bunch of waiting. Others are quick, possibly frenzied, work. You can’t always control when you’ll hit each step – when you get the proofs back and when they’re due, for example – so you need to be flexible. When you’re juggling, know which balls are rubber and which are glass, so you know which ones can be dropped without shattering.
But it’s also because, when you get a rejection, you didn’t put all your eggs (or breakable glass balls) in one basket. There’s something else to fall back on for the days when you can’t bring yourself to wade through reviewers’ comments, and a way to boost yourself up again to get to the point where you can.
(Disclaimer: yes, okay, having multiple projects going on at once also increases your chances of getting multiple rejections at once. Say, two in one day, even. But you can handle rejection, and the way you think about rejection, and you won’t ever get to acceptance, even with minor revisions, if you don’t keep submitting.)
But here’s the other thing: after you get good news, you keep writing. Even then.
Part of it is the previously-mentioned precarious nature of publishing. Until your writing is actually in print, there are still a bunch of hurdles and stumbling blocks. You don’t get to permanently hang up your writer’s hat once you get that acceptance email. There’s always more work to do prior to publication, for one. And you probably want to get published again, too.
So on bad days – rejection days – you write. And on good days 0\- acceptance days – you write, too. Maybe not on the project that got the rejection or the acceptance, but … you write. Having multiple projects means you can make sure it’s useful writing, especially when you don’t want to deal with reviewers’ comments or confront why, exactly, your piece got rejected. And on good days, you can take that energy and channel it into another project because you’re not done yet.
Writers write, period.
On good days, write. On bad days, write.
Whether you drink vodka or champagne instead of coffee as you do is up to you.