You’ll receive more rejection letters than acceptances.
The odds are against you ever becoming a successful full-time writer.
And they’re even worse against you maintaining the glory even if you do have a successful book or two.
And you’ll probably be just fine if you give in and quit.
If you’re still reading, you’re probably enough of a writer that all of the above doesn’t matter to you.
At least not to the point that you’ve up and quit … at least not quite yet.
If you’re still reading, you’re probably living at least an aspect or two of The Stockdale Paradox when it comes to writing.
The Stockdale Paradox refers to how Rear Admiral James Stockdale survived as a prisoner of war in Hanoi for over seven years.
Stockdale survived by never doubting he would survive. He held utter faith that he would live and that his very surviving would be the defining event of his life.
The paradox part comes in because Stockdale also resolved to staunchly accept the most brutal facts of his confinement.
Stockdale never allowed his faith to turn into blind optimism. Other prisoners held out for Christmas, then for Easter, then for Thanksgiving. And when the next date and the next went by, they would lose hope.
Stockdale, on the other hand, faced down the fact that not only Christmas, but also Easter and Thanksgiving and then back around to Christmas again likely meant only more torture, more confinement, more brutality.
Stockdale never lost hope - but neither did he ever cling to false hope. He simply resolved to persevere, day by day, in the face of the most extreme adversity.
Unless you’re a instant, lottery-hit somebody, you have to embody the Stockdale paradox as a writer or artist. There’s really no other way to survive.
I’ve seen far too many writers I admire drop off the map. I’ve seen writers have their dreams crushed because publishing changed and a lot of the smaller publishing houses foundered. I’ve seen writers’ dreams crushed because the self-publishing boom petered out. And I know writers who have been writing for twenty or thirty years who are now, at long last, giving in and giving up because the Stephen King-level success they claim to have felt waiting in their bones, in the very core of their being, the success that was programmed into their very souls, just didn’t come, not via traditional publishing, not via self-publishing, despite all their fervent wishing and hoping and visualizations. Their art became their prison camp, and they lost hope.
So let’s go full Stockdale on all this.
First, the brutal facts: You are not going to be a huge success. The million-dollar advance is not coming tomorrow or next week, not by Easter, not by Thanksgiving, and not by Christmas. And even if it does, you’re always going to be able to dream bigger than your achievements.
But the paradox part: If you quit writing and putting your work out there, you certainly won’t be a big writing success. If you stop believing in yourself, in the quality of your work, if you quit honing the craft, if you quit loving the craft, if your butt no longer places itself in front of the keyboard, the cavalry will have nothing to rescue.
Ask yourself this: Was writing a prison camp when you started?
Was a million-dollar advance your only goal when you started?
I know writers, and if you really are one, your first stories and essays and poems weren’t a prison camp at all - they were freedom itself. The big success might have been a dream, a hope, a wish, a sparkle on the distant horizon - but you showed up and sat down for so many other reasons.
Best to face it. That sparkle is gonna stay right there where it’s always been, glittering on that far horizon. But the only way you’ll ever reach it is to keep sailing for it, hard as you can.