A few years ago, in 2015, I hit a wall with writing. I had just given birth to my son a few months before, I was completely exhausted all the time, and I had been querying on multiple novels for years, with no success. I had done everything I thought I was supposed to do. Joined and founded writing groups, worked with beta readers, steeled myself through harsh critique, edited and revised my manuscripts until it felt like my eyes were going to bleed, and still…nothing.
I felt like a complete failure.
At that point I also felt like I had received every form of rejection letter possible, from the short and sweet, “Not for us,” to the longer (and sort of worse), “We really wanted to fall in love with this work and believe in the concept and the writing. Unfortunately, we didn’t.” I tried to bolster myself with stories about how Stephen King hung all his rejection letters up on a nail on the wall in order to give himself greater determination to go on, but the bolstering didn’t really work.
I just felt like no one wanted to read my writing.
Sometimes I felt like I was writing the wrong kinds of stories. My style of writing was “out” right now and the market was oversaturated with literary fiction, or so everyone said. Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t getting the marketing/promotional piece right. Maybe my query letters sucked, even though I’d worked on them for what felt like thousands of hours. Maybe this and maybe that, but again, when it was all said and done, I just honestly felt like shit. No one was interested in my work and that was the one thing that was clear.
Then, I had an idea for a new book. I knew my idea was a good one, and that it could really help people. But I was so fed up with trying to get an agent that I decided to throw all my old systems and ideas out the window and start fresh. I decided to self-publish.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that one decision would change the entire course of my writing life.
This was how my book The INFJ Writer was born. I didn’t have a big plan on how to write it and I didn’t have any idea of how to market it. But I had talked to enough INFJs and INFPs through my coaching practice at this point that I knew people would buy it and read it and learn from it. I decided to use self-publishing as an experiment. I would try it with this one book and if I didn’t like it, no big deal. I could go right back to querying agents just as I was doing before. In fact, I could do both at the same time, and why not? There was no law that said I had to pick one and stick with it forever.
Now, this might seem obvious to anyone else, but for me, this was a huge breakthrough. I’ve always been intense, super focused, and an insane perfectionist. Along with those traits comes a strong tendency toward black-and-white thinking. It’s very easy for me to decide that I’m into THIS ONE THING and I HAVE TO DO IT THIS WAY and so of course that makes it difficult for me to ever be fluid or go with the flow. So, for me to decide to “be playful” and “experiment” with self-publishing while concurrently still shopping my work around to agents was nothing less than an earth-shattering change in my inner world.
I learned a lot of things in that first year of self-publishing. I learned I loved it—totally, completely, shockingly, and head-over-heels loved it. And I learned it had more benefits than I had ever dreamed of, in every area. The little bit of extra income from royalties was nice, but what really changed my life was the way I felt as a writer. I went from feeling emotionally beat-down, rejected, hopeless, resentful and creatively stifled, to excited, joyful, enthusiastic, and determined.
It wasn’t until I started self-publishing that I could look back and see that I had come very close to giving up on writing altogether. I realized that I had gone through so many rounds of querying, and so many rejections, that certain dark thoughts had begun to lurk in the back of my mind, and those certain dark thoughts were getting stronger every day. Thoughts like: Maybe it’s time for me to give up writing. Maybe I was never cut out to be a writer. Maybe this whole being-a-writer dream I’m putting so much energy into is actually total bullshit.
It’s hard to come back from thoughts like that, once they get started. And I was in so deep with them that I didn’t even realize the extent to which they had started to sabotage my creative spirit.
The thing is, I thought I had a very specific problem that was ruining my writing life: No agents wanted my work. In reality, I DID have a problem, but it wasn’t that. My problem was that I was overly attached to a certain idea I had in my head of what a successful writing career looked like. Long ago, I had decided that getting an agent was the ONLY way I would do things and I stuck with that belief even as everything changed around me—technology, the publishing world, social media, and maybe most importantly, me and my writing.
My problem was that I kept asking myself the question, “How will I know when it’s time to give up my dream of being a writer?” And that question had no basis in anything, it was a nonsense question born out of despair and the rantings of my inner critic. The REAL question was always, “How can I make my dream of being a writer come true?”
And once I was able to answer that question, that’s when I was able to change everything.
Do you have any old belief systems that might be “ruining” your writing life? Are there any outdated ideas about your writing that are still hanging around in your mind space? Can “being a writer” possibly look different than how you’ve pictured it up until now?
If so, it’s probably time to clean out the closet.
Lauren Sapala is the author of Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers, a guide to help any HSP, INFJ, INFP, or introvert writer move past resistance to selling and marketing their work. She is also the author of The INFJ Writer, a writing guide made specifically for sensitive intuitive writers.