Self-pity never fueled a single accomplishment

I made the above statement a few days ago and impressed myself enough to use it as a blog post title. If someone else already said it, please don’t tell me. Let me keep the fantasy alive of one day appearing in the “Quotable Quotes” section of Reader’s Digest.

pity

Pity

With so many of you on summer hiatus, I’ve been forced to troll WordPress in search of blogs to read. Here’s something you missed (besides endless talk of Jennifer Lawrence’s nude photo leak): People complaining that they can’t get their novel or story published, can’t get an agent, can’t win a writing contest, can’t get blog traffic, can’t get motivated to write, and so on. Common theme: It’s a conspiracy.

I feel like I’ve been a supportive member of the blogging community. Some writers I encounter on WP are experienced professionals while others are still trying to develop mechanics and find a voice. Wherever people fall on that scale, I am always willing to offer encouragement.  Because really, the difference between good and not-good is often practice. Innate talent helps, but talent is nothing next to determination.

We should all agree that, to be successful at something (define success your own way), you must engage in activities that get you closer to your goal. For writers, that includes writing, reading, learning and researching, observing, and seeking feedback from writing groups, beta readers, or editors. Getting to know people in the industry can’t hurt, either.

Lamenting one’s struggles publicly will not bring writing goals closer to realization. Time spent bemoaning could be time spent on one of the constructive activities mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Frustration

Frustration

I read a dead-serious blog post last week from a writer complaining that, no matter how much she writes, she is still nowhere near as good as John Steinbeck. Poor thing. The Fates have conspired to stop her from being a generational genius who writes some of the most legendary works in the entire history of fiction.

Note: None of us is owed a place in the pantheon of great writers.

I think I’m a pretty good writer. I believe my novel-in-progress is, if nothing else, clean of prose, and it has potential to be a fast-paced page-turner. Those are my opinions. I know, as a statistical fact, that my chances of getting an agent to rep it and a publisher to buy it are almost nonexistent.

Almost nonexistent.

If I were to say, “It’s just too hard. Look how great I am, but they still don’t want me. I quit,” I’d be doing a disservice to you and me. To you, because I would be dismissing your talent and effort and desire as inferior to mine; and to me, because I’d be taking an almost nonexistent chance and turning it to an impossibility. I can’t publish a thing I never write.

Moments of frustration are inevitable when one pursues a lofty goal. If the likely thing happens and I don’t find an agent or a publisher, I’ll probably want to chuck my laptop off a cliff and stop writing. But you won’t see me hosting a pity party about it on my blog, because I am not going to chuck my laptop off a cliff and stop writing. I’ll get a new idea—a better one—and I’ll spend that pity-party time working on my next story.

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58 responses to “Self-pity never fueled a single accomplishment

  • nrhatch

    Fantastic post and title, Eric. I get tired of being invited to Pity Parties thrown by bloggers who collapse into a pool of tears every time things don’t go their way.

    Especially when two posts earlier they are on the top of the world talking about how fucking brilliant they are and how they can taste success coming around the next bend in the road.

    If we’re enjoying the journey of writing . . . that’s success. No matter what else happens along the way. Getting published then becomes having our cupcake AND eating it too.

    For those who don’t enjoy the process of writing, STOP. Just stop and go do something else.

  • Yolanda M.

    wise and inspiring post Eric 🙂 I like the quote, it may in fact be wholly and truly yours. Ass on chair is what I always say to myself. Eventually if we sit long enough, we write. It may not always be good but at least it’s something, it’s practice. Success to me means writing and finishing a story, a poem, a novel…because I know what went into it and I don’t need the five star review or champagne popping but hey, if that ever comes my way it would be awesome.

    • ericjbaker

      I’d sure love to write a bestselling novel (as would many of us), but it’s unlikely to happen. I find comfort in hard facts. It’s better than thinking the universe is out to get you, isn’t it?

      Thanks for the comment, YM!

  • fictionalpenguin

    The problem with writing is that the goals are never just “I want to have one story in an eZine and be done with it”. I think a little mopey time can be good, if only when it’s used as a means to kick oneself in the ass and move back onto the right path (Or the write path, am I right? Hahaha…ugh, I’ll just punch myself in the face for that and move on.). It’s important not only for each writer to find their voice and style, but to also learn to walk that fine line between believing their work is just shy of being a gift from the Gods and thinking they are scum whose work has no merit. Maybe a touch of hyperbole there. Just a little.

    As for you? I think you don’t give yourself enough credit as a member of the online writing communities you’re a part of. From what I’ve seen, you’re one of the most supportive writerly types. A paragon of good, perhaps (I’m being mildly facetious here just because I don’t do compliments well).

    Terrific post. It could have probably benefited from some knights jousting on giraffe-back, but who am I to make such critiques?

    • ericjbaker

      Severe budget cuts have led to dramatic reduction in the appearance of giraffe-riding knights. I encourage you to start a petition.

      I’d guess 90% of writers,if not more, are self-critical. I know I am, and I’m not above beating myself up privately.

      However, my eyes start rolling (they’re very willful) when the conspiracies start coming out. It takes more than being good to be successful in the traditional sense. It takes timing, the right idea, the stars aligning, whatever. When people start acting like they are special and it’s so unfair, I want to say, “You think I don’t work hard? You think I haven’t spent countless hours refining my craft?”

      Please continue to deploy hyperbole at will. It entertains management.

  • Kevin Brennan

    Actually, I’ve discovered a way to convert my self-pity (with the addition of ethanol — from corn!) into a clean and efficient fuel to operate my lawn mower. In that way, self-pity accomplishes a neat and tidy lawn, to the delight of the wife and neighbors.

    That’s about all it’s good for, though…

  • livelytwist

    I like pity parties! I think of something really sad. I sit in front of the mirror, start crying, watch my mascara run, think how ugly my face looks, and cry some more! I cry until I’m emotionally flat, take two tablets of Paracetamol, and then go to sleep.

    When I awake, I put on my game face, and in the words of Neil Gaiman, I “make good art!” Life doesn’t owe me anything, but I owe myself something.

    This line I like, “Innate talent helps, but talent is nothing next to determination.” As I read your post, I felt as though there was a lot more you’d have liked to say, but you constrained yourself . . .

    Gosh, I see something in the related links I’d like to read:
    This is the only time you will see the word “NaNoWriMo” on this blog. Ever.

    No time to continue crying. I’m off to read! 🙂

    • ericjbaker

      Hahaha. See, your comments are awesome. I said so last time and you did not disappoint. 😉

      I have a friend who will sometimes say, in the middle of the day and in a cheerful voice, ‘I think I’m going to wake up at 3 in the morning and cry later.” As if she is talking about stopping at the grocery store.

  • Gwen Stephens

    “I can’t publish a thing I never write.” — that’s one to write on a post-it and stick it on the monitor. Thanks 🙂

  • Richard Leonard

    Very well said as usual. You say, “…writing, reading, learning and researching, observing, and seeking feedback from writing groups, beta readers, or editors…” I think I’ve been focussing on the middle lot in there lately. The only reason I haven’t been published yet is the same reason I’ve never received a rejection letter – I’ve never tried. And the reason for that is because nothing is ready. And that’s my own doing.
    Love your enthusiasm and encouragement. Much appreciated. Keep it up! Even if my work is crap. 🙂

  • Jill Weatherholt

    Excellent, Eric! I have no patience for whiners. A true writer will continue to write whether they get published or not.

    • ericjbaker

      It’s that simple, isn’t it? To be a writer, you have to write!

      • Eric Tonningsen

        It is that simple! While my perspectives are not that of a writer, I certainly have ended my fair share of client engagements because people want the endlessly talk through their drama-laced stories. I don’t tolerate drama or pity. As developing and beings we need to put on our big boy (or girl) pants…and get on with it.

        I get that your focus and that of your readers is writing, but the use of public or private space to vent serves no constructive purpose. Check that shit at the door or don’t bother knocking.

        Onward, Eric! And thanks for stating this more succinctly than I, Jill.

  • jhmae

    Well put. I think pity parties are a substitute for hard work. Some people just don’t want to do what they need to do to write better stories. Their goals may also be too high. I have no intentions of trying to find a publisher or agent because, as you say, the odds of achieving that are almost non-existent. I won’t say who the blogger was, but he listed over 100 reasons being an indie writer sucks. Real motivational, AND highly misinformed.

    • ericjbaker

      Yikes. 100 reasons to feel miserable. No thanks. Life will throw enough of that at us; we don’t need to invent our own.

      I don’t mind saying I’m going to shoot for getting an agent and publishing traditionally, because I know I will probably fail and I’m not worried about it. Maybe some people don’t want to put in the work (whether your goal is traditional or indie publishing) because they fear the embarrassment of failure. I don’t understand that mentality. The people who read this blog know how tough it is to make a dent in the publishing world, even if you self-publish. They’re not going to point and laugh if it doesn’t work out (not that I’d cry over it if they did). They’ll most likely say, “Hey, he gave it a shot.”

      Thanks for the comment, as usual.

      • jhmae

        Go for it I wish you luck 🙂 The only reason I’m shooting is creative control. I’m a total control freak in every way…

        • ericjbaker

          I’m more like that with the music, because I have a clear idea of what I want. With publishing, I don’t have the industry knowledge. If, by some stroke of good fortune, I do generate interest in my project, I’ll probably end up pissed off at having to compromise and rewrite it to please 100 other people. Then I’ll be getting in line behind you.

  • Roy McCarthy

    Nail on head. The post I wished I’d written. And indeed it extends to all walks of where people believe that whining and complaining will make it all better. The world doesn’t work like that and never has so shut up! (Not you Eric 🙂 )

  • katecrimmins

    Published? A writer can get published? All kidding aside, I worked with a wonderful artist many years ago. I was admiring his work and he said to me, “You could draw like this.” Of course I looked at him shocked. He said, “It takes a lot of practice. This piece you are looking at has been sketched and resketched many, many times.” Of course he forgot to say that you need the drive to practice. You have to love something to continue to work at it. As for whining…I much prefer my wine with cheese and upbeat friends. Well done!

    • ericjbaker

      I just skip the whine altogether and go for the beer. Some kind of Belgian white, preferably. I’ll definitely partake of the cheese and cool friends, though.

      I’ve written two novel-length manuscripts before this one, the first in 2008. I can’t even look at it now because it makes me cringe. The second one had some good spots and some flaws. The new one is still a work in progress, but I can already tell after two drafts that it looks as if a different (much better) writer stepped in. Practice! Nothing tops it

  • Uju

    Brilliant post. I’m just going to swap ‘writing’ with everything else I can think of 🙂 And possibly original quote too.
    But I like to cry–when I can get past the ugly mascara face and headache. It helps me get rid of emotional frustration and screws my head right back in place.

    P.S It’s my birthday tomorrow 😀

    @Picture. Yeah, thanks for bringing back that distasteful Wrecking Ball video to mind.

  • L. Marie

    Great post! And I really like livelytwist’s comment! (Gotta love Neil Gaiman.)
    When I throw myself a pity party, I usually make sure there’s enough bacon involved. And chocolate. But not bacon-covered chocolate. And then I pick myself off the floor, ingest more bacon and chocolate and go on.

  • her30s

    The title of your post reminds me of something Dr. Phil would say. Lol! But I totally agree. I cannot stand the woe is me pity party. Great post!

  • Janna G. Noelle

    Well said. And furthermore, why would you want to post about getting rejected when other agents and editors might read about it and then turn around and also reject you? It’s like how no one ever offers to buy a drink for the people who can’t afford their own; once you make your rejection streak public, it’s sure to only continue. As well, if you publicly complain about the very industry you’re trying to be part of, what’s the incentive for those on the inside to open the door to you?

  • angelicdarkness70

    I so agree…..people should continue, grow and learn…..

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  • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    Self-pity is a waste of time; self-awareness is more useful. Self-awareness writes novels. And blog posts.

    All I seem to do is become odder in some ways with each passing day. I see blogs with tens of thousands of views every day – and marvel.

    I’m not envious – so maybe Fate or the Good Lord have kept me tiny on purpose: I like to respond to everyone who stops by, and could never handle large numbers of visitors (limited energy).

    I’m blown away, though, by the occasional visitor who stops by and reads 80 of my long posts in a day. And doesn’t even leave a comment. It’s happened more than one – there are other people out there in the world who get some particular part of me; ergo, there will be readers. Who’d a thunk it?

    • ericjbaker

      Anyway, one post YOU wrote might change someone’s life for the better. One word, even. Feel the power coursing through your fngertips!

      To put it all in perspective: A 10-minute-long “adult” video will get more hits in 1 day than even the most popular blogs get in a month. C’est la vie.

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

        And I’m pretty sure the folk who watch that particular video are not among the readers who will enjoy my work, so it doesn’t matter.

        Sad how the word ‘adult’ has become so compromised in meaning. Nuance is fascinating. ‘New adult’ or ‘young adult’ completely changes it (so far) into something again useful.

        I think self-awareness is knowing where you and ‘la vie’ intersect – and going after that audience by figuring out its habits. I have some ideas; but the first big one is: finish the book. I’m extraordinarily blessed to have found a small number of readers who are following every week when the new scene goes out; I suspect the readers in general who will like what I write, like it in one chunk.

        You are right about that power – imagine not being a writer! Boggles the mind.

  • ericjbaker

    In this instance, I used the word “adult” rather than the P word that rhymes with “corn” in an effort to avoid artificial traffic. Certain terms will show up in google searches and attract spam comments I don’t need.

    I agree with everything you said.

  • frankie923

    Great post – one of my favorites so far.
    I too appreciated “…but talent is nothing next to determination.” It reminded me of Gladwell a little in regards to the 10,000 hours (as mentioned in your “Keys to Writing Success”) but also in my other takeaway from “Outliers”, that there are several factors that contribute to whether one will be successful or not. Point being that self-pity is certainly not part of any recipe for success & the more people to know that the better.

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