The toughest moment in my writing career came in 2002. I had just finished my 12th novel, but so far hadn’t been able to sell a single one of the things. Earlier that year, I had been rejected by all 13 MFA programs I’d submitted to.
I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs since—including books that topped the bestseller list and others that crashed and burned—but no moment in my life has been more poignant than sitting with the latest in what seemed like an endless stack of unsold novels, wondering what I was doing with my life.
What I didn’t know was that the process had already begun—the spark had dropped onto the grass, and a fire was smoldering that would change my life forever. A year earlier, in 2001, I’d submitted my sixth book to an editor. Eight months had passed with no communication, other than a short follow-up I’d sent about three months after the submission. (The editor replied that he’d gotten the manuscript, but said nothing else.)
That book, Elantris, was still sitting on the editor’s desk. He hadn’t looked at it. He wouldn’t until April 2003, after which he’d call me in a frenzy after reading all night, demanding to know if the manuscript was still available. He made an offer on the spot.
But in 2002, I sat there, contemplating my future with despair, completely unaware that within months I’d have a major book deal. Ultimately, I shook off the discouragement and started work on my thirteenth novel. But I do sometimes wonder what my life would be like if I’d given up, moved on, then gotten that phone call eight months later with an offer from an editor.
You could be writing the book that changes your life. You could have already submitted it, or self-published it. The spark could be starting a fire for you as well. You don’t know, and you can’t know. That is the thrill of being an artist, of working for yourself, and of telling the stories you want to tell.
Don’t give up. Keep your eyes on the project you’re working on right now, and make it the best that it can be. More importantly, love that process. In the end, that’s what made me stand up and get back to work on book thirteen: the realization that I loved telling stories. No stack of unpublished novels, no matter how high, would change my enjoyment of this process—no more than a finished set of dives would make a scuba enthusiast feel discouraged about diving again.
Maybe that fire has been sparked for you, and you don’t know it. But even if it hasn’t been, you should write as if it has. Because this thing you’re doing isn’t about publication, bestseller lists, or reviews. It’s about you, your story, and the victory inherent in completion.