Instant Kick-in-the-Pants for Discouraged Writers

Photo Credit: Netflix

Writers have bad days. We get negative book reviews, we take too long to finish a story, and we get rejected—sometimes all in the same week.

But writers are also resilient. When you need a kick-in-the-pants, read this post for instant encouragement and motivation.

When It’s Taking “Too Long”:

Gillian Flynn: 3 years to write Gone Girl

William Golding: 5 years to write Lord of the Flies

J. K. Rowling: 6 years to write Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Elizabeth Kostova: 10 years to write The Historian

J. R. R. Tolkien: 16 years to write The Lord of the Rings trilogy

When You Feel Too Old/Too Young:

Christopher Paolini: 16

S. E. Hinton: 18

Mary Shelley: 20

Ken Follet: 24

Ernest Hemingway: 26

George R. R. Martin: 29

Sylvia Plath: 30

Harper Lee: 34

George Eliot: 40

Mark Twain: 41

R. L. Stine: 42

Bram Stoker: 43

L. Frank Baum: 44

J. R. R. Tolkien: 45

Laura Ingalls Wilder: 65

When You Experience Self-Doubt:

“Don’t let imposter syndrome crush your dream before you even give yourself a chance. Do you have a message to share with the world? Don’t listen to those who tell you you’ll never be good enough—even if they’re just voices in your head. You’ll guarantee failure if you don’t muster the courage to try.” —Jerry Jenkins

“Authors are especially susceptible to imposter syndrome because writing is such a vexing labyrinth of self-doubt.” — Grant Faulkner

“Respect your writing time and others will too. Show up and work. Keep writing even when you don’t feel like it.” —Jerry Jenkins

“One of the worst things you can do to mangle the exquisite beauty of your creative spirit is to compare yourself to another.” — Grant Faulkner

“Confidence is 10 percent hard work, and 90 percent delusion.” —Tina Fey

“Self-doubt is just part of the creative process. It doesn't go away. It sits there. It's part of the process. So we need to learn to live with that and go forward. Finish your manuscript, publish your book, and get your words out into the world anyway. Self-doubt is just part of the job of being a writer.” — Joanna Penn

When Another Agent Rejects You:

“While querying, I once got a rejection that said they ‘hated the voice but loved the plot.’ In the same day, I got a rejection saying they ‘loved the voice but hated the plot.’ You guys, publishing is so subjective.” — Samantha Joyce, @samjoycebooks

“When I first began submitting (look, hardcopy rejections), I decoupaged all my rejections onto a coffee table in my office as a reminder to keep trying. Eventually, my work found homes in many of these same places.” —Sarah Fawn Montgomery, @SF_Montgomery

“120+ query rejections on my first (shelved) books. I sent my first query for One of Us Is Lying to my dream agent, and she signed & sold it a couple of months later. Then I got another query rejection after it hit the NYT bestseller list.” — Karen M. McManus, @writerkmc

“I was rejected by the UCSB Creative Writing College because I wrote a fantasy story, then I got a Medieval Studies degree instead because I couldn’t get back into the program. They rejected all fantasy stories. Now I play Dungeons and Dragons for a living.” —Holly Conrad, @HollyConrad

“One time when I was unemployed and depressed an agent rejected me 30 minutes after I sent him my material by saying ‘Read it. Didn’t flip. Maybe you’ll embarrass me with an Emmy one day.’ The show I spent the last 2 years writing on just got nominated.” —Jenny Jaffe, @jennyjaffe

“A literary agent turned me down because “memoirs just don’t sell.” A few years later, I sold my memoir to Simon & Schuster for six figures.” —Saeed Jones, @theferocity

“My book was rejected from SO MANY publishers I don’t remember the total. One wanted it to be a trivia book instead. We went with @Pocket_Books because they believed in what I actually proposed. JKR wrote the foreword and it was a NYT bestseller.” —Melissa Anelli, @melissaanelli

“I was accepted then rejected by the same publication in the same week.” — Katherine Jamison, @not_the_whiskey

When Someone Mocks Self-Publishing:

Andy Weir (The Martian) — Matt Damon starred in the movie version, which won an Academy Award.

Mark Dawson (John Milton Series) — The self-publishing powerhouse who makes millions as a crime/thriller author.

Rupi Kaur (Milk and Honey) — Instagram helped pave the way for success with this New York Times best-selling poetry book.

Lisa Genova (Still Alice) — Julianne Moore starred in the movie version.

E. L. James (50 Shades of Grey) — She read Twilight and thought, “I can do that.”

Jamie McGuire (Beautiful Disaster) — Her indie book wound up on the New York Times best-sellers list, which was unheard of at that time.

Christopher Paolini (Eragon) — He started writing at 14 and published the beloved Eragon at 16.

Sarah A. Denzil (Silent Child) — She celebrated 1 million books sold last year. Read the interview.

When You Get Negative Reviews:

“There is a technical term for someone who confuses the opinions of a character in a book with those of the author. That term is idiot.” — S. M. Sterling

Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

“The plan and technique of the illustrations are superb… …but they may well prove frightening, accompanied as they are by a pointless and confusing story.” —Publisher’s Weekly, 1963

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

“Miss Lee’s problem has been to tell the story she wants to tell and yet to stay within the consciousness of a child, and she hasn't consistently solved it.” —Granville Hicks, writing in The Saturday Review, 1960

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

[criticizing the lack of a futuristic language akin to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four or Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange] “The writing of The Handmaid's Tale is undistinguished... This is a serious defect, unpardonable maybe for the genre: a future that has no language invented for it lacks a personality. That must be why, collectively, it is powerless to scare.” —Mary McCarthy, writing in The New York Times, 1986.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

“How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery. It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors.” — Graham’s Lady’s Magazine, 1848

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Mr. Scott Fitzgerald deserves a good shaking. Here is an unmistakable talent unashamed of making itself a motley to the view. The Great Gatsby is an absurd story, whether considered as romance, melodrama, or plain record of New York high life.” — L.P Hartley, The Saturday Review, 1925


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An expert editor, seasoned writer, and author-centric marketer, Shayla Raquel works one-on-one with authors and business owners every day. A lifelong lover of books, she has edited over 300 books and has launched several Amazon bestsellers for her clients. Her award-winning blog teaches new and established authors how to write, publish, and market their books. She is the author of the Pre-Publishing Checklist, The Rotting (in Shivers in the Night), and The Suicide Tree. In her not-so-free time, she acts as organizer for the Yukon Writers’ Society, volunteers at the Oklahoma County Jail, and obsesses over squirrels. She lives in Oklahoma with her two dogs, Chanel and Wednesday.