Staying Motivated Means Staying in Shape by Brad Windhauser
I’ve become ensnared in World Cup soccer. Like most people I know here in Philly, I don’t have a particular interest in soccer normally and, to be honest, most of the games I have watched look nothing more than a bunch of guys running around on a large field of grass with the occasional goal scored. I get exhausted just watching. Part of the problem I had/have with soccer is that I don’t know the game all that well, and until a soccer fan took the time to explain the nuances of the game, I really couldn’t appreciate what I was watching—it wasn’t all about the goal. Plus, the more games I watched, the more I was drawn into the energy in the stadium as fans cheered, cringed, held their breath waiting for their team to score. And when they do, the place explodes, and that excitement is infectious.
It’s hard not to feel like my writing career is a little like one of these soccer matches.
Like most writers, I spend a lot of time reading and writing. I spend very little time (relatively) opening emails that tell me a piece has been accepted for publication. I actually spend more time fielding emails that tell me “thanks for your submission, but we’re passing…” It’s easy to let this get me down, compel me to question my life choices or, more specifically, my career choice: Why do I sacrifice so much of my time to this artistic pursuit if there is seemingly so little payoff? The answer is what keeps me motivated, keeps me writing, keeps me submitting work over and over, even when I know the odds are very much against having all my efforts rewarded in the traditional sense: steady publication.
First, I needed a bit of perspective. I have a small stable of polished short stories I currently have to submit. This small stable has been reduced because I have been fortunate enough to find homes for some of them, which gives me less to work with. I also devote most of my time to novel writing, which means I’m not writing more short stories to try and publish. This all means that, even though I would love to publish more, I have to cut myself some slack. There’s only so much I can do about setting myself up for success: I track diligently (on a spread sheet) where I submit, I continue to search for agents to query, and then wait for responses.
Then I return to writing. None of the other parts of my career matter if I don’t continue to produce work.
Next, I figured out when I need to step away. Part of this deals with ignoring the impulse to check my Submittable dashboard for updates, the other part deals with when to set a story aside: when I know I’ve gotten it into the best shape I can at the moment, I need to divert my attention. When I return later, I’ll have fresh eyes, ones better able to find the narrative holes, the character inconsistencies, the boring prose.
Last, I worked on processing the avalanche of rejections that arrive in my inbox. First, I know my work will be rejected WAY more often than it is accepted. Therefore, I remind myself that it’s not personal. So, I review my submissions every so often and learned to trust my work. This trust has been affirmed by the occasional editor who has included a personalized, complementary note with a rejection: I am making traction. Now I do my best to submit the right story with the right journal.
Perhaps the best thing to keep yourself motivated is to remember that in this business—and it is a business—you have very little control over most of it. Therefore, you have to focus your energies on what you CAN control. For me, that means reading, writing, setting work aside before revising (so I can edit with a clear mind), seeking input from people I trust and/or participating in a writer’s group that can help shape my work. If I know I am doing all I can to further my craft, the rest will come. Eventually
I may have felt like a soccer player running constantly around a field without as much as I want to show for it, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that those professional soccer players are all in fantastic shape. And there’s something to be said for that.