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How Small Victories Help You Write with Perseverance

by Jennifer on December 14, 2010

By Suzannah Windsor Freeman

Richard Bach said, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

I’ve always believed that perseverance is the key to becoming a successful writer. Still, there have been those days when I have felt my words would never be fit to be read by anyone.

In the absence of great writing victories, we should remember to acknowledge the smaller victories that help us persevere with our writing, even when we’d rather not.

I’d like to share one of my own small writing victories with you today.

We must all begin somewhere

While I don’t think I’ll ever attempt to make a full-time living as a freelance writer, the notion of being able to write the occasional article for money is appealing.

Two years ago, I decided to try my hand at freelance writing, and the first query I ever sent out was to a national magazine.

Yes, I was bold enough to head for the top.

The editor liked my query and wanted me to write the article on spec—which means the writer writes the article and the magazine has no obligation to publish or pay for it.

I thought nothing of the conditions, only the acceptance. With my head in the clouds, I spent three full weeks writing, rewriting, and polishing the piece. It was brilliant. I was totally confident in what I’d written.

We will all face rejection

Several weeks later, I received an email informing me that the editor had decided not to accept my article. Due to time constraints, the magazine had a policy of not offering any reasons for rejection or feedback on submissions.

My heart was broken.

I knew intellectually that it was only my first query and my first assignment, but fear of further rejection kept me from pitching the article elsewhere.

It never again saw the light of day.

We must always persevere

After focusing solely on fiction and blogging for the last two years, I decided to give my head a shake. The person I am today can look back at my former self and recognize the type of fuzzy thinking that kept me from moving forward.

I reminded myself of that small victory I’d had: having my very first query accepted by a national magazine. I also told myself I had been practicing for two years and should be ready to try again.

So I sent out another query, this time to a paying Web market. Sure, it wouldn’t garner the prestige of landing a print-based assignment, but it was a good place to start.

Then I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

This particular market only responds to accepted queries, so the more time that passed, the more convinced I became that I had once again been rejected.

And then…

We will succeed

…this week I got a response. My query had been accepted—and this time not on spec.

What does all this mean?

  1. Find a comfortable market for your own writing level. You don’t want to sell yourself short by aiming for the bottom-of-the-barrel, but you also don’t want to aim so high that all you receive are rejections. Query markets that are suited to your own writing level and ones for which you’d be excited to write.
  2. Recognize that one rejection does not mean failure. Just because your article is rejected by one market does not mean it will be rejected by every market, so don’t give up too quickly. Still, do take into account any constructive criticism you receive through rejections, and revise your queries or submissions accordingly.
  3. Remember that excellent writers aren’t made overnight. Like learning to play an instrument, you can certainly learn to play a few simple tunes within a year. In five years, you’ll be playing more complicated stuff. But it’s not until you’ve spent many years practicing and perfecting your skills that you’ll become really good at what you do.

When you’re tempted to give up, stop and remind yourself of the small victories you’ve had. Perhaps it was a kind comment from someone who read your work, or an encouraging remark on a rejected manuscript.

Let the small victories encourage you until you have the experience and ability to achieve greater things.

What are some of the small victories you’ve had in your own writing journey? How have they helped you persevere with your writing?

About the Author: Suzannah Windsor Freeman is the founder of Write It Sideways, a blog dedicated to helping aspiring authors learn new skills, define their goals, and write more productively. Subscribe to Write It Sideways for free, and download a complimentary copy of her Read Better, Write Better Novel Study Workbook. You can also follow Suzannah on Twitter or Facebook.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Benison O'Reilly December 14, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Congratulations Suzannah! Writing is a solitary and sometimes dispiriting occupation. That’s why we have to celebrate the small victories. The first piece I had published I received no payment for, but it was in newspaper with a wide circulation. When I was phoned up for an interview by a radio station because the announcer liked the piece so much, I thought, maybe I can write, after all.

2 Krista December 14, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Great article! I think we all need to be reminded that rejections, whether for fiction or non-fiction, are not always bad. Sometimes we need to learn something – how to polish a story/article better, how to query correctly, how to be patient and/or how to persevere. Plus rejection does make victories that much sweeter!

3 Suzannah December 14, 2010 at 8:08 pm

@Benison: Sounds like a lot of people start out writing for no pay. We all have to start somewhere, right? Thanks!

@Krista: I’ve definitely learned a lot from my rejections over the years. Sometimes it’s quite a while after the rejection before I can really see the flaws in my work, but in the end the experience always helps me become just a little better.

4 Danielle Meitiv December 15, 2010 at 10:43 am

Congratulations – on both the initial interest 2 years ago and the acceptance this time around.

Your article helped remind me that there have been numerous small victories, even though I’m not yet ready for publication (still working on my first novel). An early one was a comment I got last summer from a Twitter follower, a well-respected non-fiction author. I’d just started my blog and he sent out an #FF for “great science communicators.” It was a little thing, but really made my day.

5 Suzannah December 16, 2010 at 1:02 am

@Danielle: Thanks! I didn’t even think of Twitter, but you’re right–sometimes just catching the attention of someone important on Twitter is a boost in itself.

6 Melissa Donovan December 17, 2010 at 3:24 am

What an inspiring article. We always need to be reminded to try different things and to never give up. I like what Richard Bach said. Those words definitely ring true.

7 Eeleen Lee December 19, 2010 at 7:24 am

In the words of Winston Churchill, “Never retreat, never surrender”!

It is also practical to accumulate small victories so that a writer doesn’t feel discouraged by larger goals

8 Nicholas December 22, 2010 at 5:04 am

Suzannah,

We can so easily neglect the importance of acknowledging and celebrating small victories we experience in life. Your inspiring and encouraging post is a good reminder of why it’s so important that we don’t.

Our small victories, in writing or any other area of life, are milestones towards reaching our dreams.

Thanks and congratulations!

9 Suzannah December 25, 2010 at 9:29 pm

@Melissa
@Eeleen
@Nicholas
Thank you all so much for your encouraging words!

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