Writing Tips: Part Four: Bloody-mindedness

It’s a pity to have to say to creative types that we need to be bloody-minded. After all, aren’t we the gentle, sensitive, muse-driven, imaginative people, who wouldn’t hurt a fly? Maybe we are. But qualities of determination, perseverance and dogged persistence will help us to succeed. I call it writerly bloody-mindedness.

It started the moment I began to write. The first (and perhaps greatest) battle is with ourselves. No sooner do we put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, than the doubts arise. Why am I doing this? Who is ever going to read it? No one will want to read this. It’s such a waste of time. And so on. You may be familiar with this.

So what’s the answer? Mine was simply: “I’m writing because I want to. I don’t need further justification than that. I’m writing because I have to, I need to. I have this idea, and I’m going to get it down. I’m putting aside all the other things I need to do, because this is important to me. I want to write this story, and I’m going to. So there.”

First of all, we need to be bloody-minded with ourselves. To take ourselves in hand and insist that we’re going to write.

The next hurdle is when we dare mention to anyone else that we’re writing. How will they react? In one sense, it shouldn’t matter too much, because it’s our writing, our story, and what anyone else thinks is secondary.

But we’re sensitive, creative types, and we need the encouragement of others, the gentle coaxing, the prompting, the allowing, or even the cheering of our families and friends. But we must not be swayed too much by the opinions of others, either bad or good. If they praise our work to the skies, when it’s weak, we’ll suffer with an over-inflated sense of our talent and skill, and be unwilling to accept editing or critique.

What many of us might experience, however, is the opposite: an amused laugh. “What? You? Write a book? What on earth makes you think you can do that? You’ll never finish it, and even if you do, it’ll be rubbish.” Even if our friends and family aren’t blunt enough to say this to our faces, it may be what they’re thinking. So how should we react? Enter bloody-mindedness stage two.

My reaction is: “Right. I’m going to show them. I’ll prove I have the persistence and determination to finish this thing, and show myself and them I can do it. I’ll work on it until it’s passably good. I’ll learn this writing craft so I know what I’m doing. Then they’ll have to accept that this isn’t a passing phase, a fad or silly hobby, but that I’m a proper writer and novelist. So there.”

I rehearsed this speech to myself a few times in the early stages, and it fired me enough to keep going. We vary in our natural bloody-mindedness, but need a certain amount to get through our own doubts, and those from our otherwise well-meaning family, friends and acquaintances.

lego angry face

But suppose we get that far. Suppose our determination and persistence get us far enough to have a completed draft of a novel. Let’s assume that we’ve learned our craft, built our world, shaped our structure, our characters and plot to form a moderately publishable novel, what then? We face perhaps the greatest hurdle of them all.

Publication.

The process of submissions has almost legendary status among writers. Talk about query letters, sample chapters, synopses, the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, and (dare I mention them?) literary agents, then many aspiring authors will roll their eyes, thump the arms of their chair, or launch into a tirade about the whole process.

“Oh, have you received a rejection, by any chance? How unusual!”

Yes, the experience of rejection letters, slips, emails, or just plain rejection by being ignored, is bread and butter for writers. We need to learn how to handle them. I suggest we do so with bloody-mindedness.

The first few rejections are a bit of a novelty. After all, even the best writers got them (as everyone will tell you), and these make you feel like a proper writer. But once the rejections reach double figures, the novelty wears off. And if they approach triple figures, we can be excused for feeling marginally miffed with the whole endeavour.

So after the first few rejections, I cultivated a bloody-minded attitude toward literary agents. Publishers, I like; literary agents, not so much.

With each “Sorry, but this isn’t for us” message that landed on my doormat or inbox, I rehearsed the familiar mantra: “Right. I’m going to show them. I’ll make my story so good that publishers will queue up for it. I’ll work hard and turn it into a bestseller, and then you agents will be sorry. I’ll make you regret the day you turned down my work. And when in the future you come begging and pleading to represent me, then I’ll remind you that I gave you the chance, but you chose to reject me instead. So there.”

I’m sorry if this sounds mean, cruel, vindictive, un-Christian, or whatever else, but this attitude worked for me. It gave me sufficient fire in my belly to keep going. It sent me back to my computer to work on my story one more time. And then to send out one more submission, until I got there.

I hope this attitude may help you, because I hate to see any writer’s dreams being crushed. So when it comes to your writing ambition, go ahead and be as bloody-minded as you like. 🙂


4 thoughts on “Writing Tips: Part Four: Bloody-mindedness”

  1. Many thanks for some more of your wise and encouraging words, Philip.
    On the subject of agents and their feedback. What I’ve had was really no help, in fact: ‘too quiet for my list’, ‘love the story but don’t like the writing style’, ‘love your writing but don’t like your story’,
    ‘don’t care about your protagonist’, ‘loved getting to know your protagonist’, ‘loved your humour’, ‘lack of humour’. But I gather one should be grateful if they reply at all, and doubly so if they give feedback of any sort.
    I can forgive and humbly accept an automated rejection, but find the behaviour of those who don’t even acknowledge receipt really reprehensible.
    Now that my first novel has found a publisher I am dithering about whether to try for an agent for my newly finished second. I hesitate.

    1. Ooh, “wise words”, thank you, Barbara, and I’m glad you found them encouraging too.
      You may pick up from this post that I’m not a great fan of literary agents, and the inconsistency of feedback to you doesn’t surprise me. Too often it’s all a question of taste.
      At present I’m coming across a number of writers who have jumped the hurdle of getting an agent and now find themselves stuck. The publishers are simply not taking the risks of acquiring books from unknown authors. So by all means submit to agents too, but I’d recommend following all direct avenues to publishers that you can, as with your first book. They’re the ones who can give us what we want: not representation, but publication. All the very best of luck.

  2. Frank Sinatra sang very much the same thing:

    Nothing is impossible I have found
    For when my chin is on the ground
    I pick myself up, dust myself off
    Start all over again

    Don’t lose your confidence if you slip
    Be grateful for a pleasant trip
    And pick yourself up, dust yourself off
    Start all over again

    The song was about learning to dance, but, hey – the same principle applies! I think every time I’ve been rejected or had negative feedback (cue violins) I’ve learned something and my writing’s been better for it.

    1. You’re right, Fran. I don’t think it’s a competition to be as bloody-minded as possible, but rather to be enough to overcome our obstacles and get where we want to be, or where we feel we should be. Keep going!

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