Don’t Let the Ducks Win

I figured out not too long ago that something I very much wanted to happen, probably wasn’t going to happen. I am not, however, here to whine and feel sorry for myself. I’ll do both those things, mind you, just not here.

Rather, the latest crash and burn brings to mind the scene from A Princess Bride where Inigo Montoya is dueling with Wesley. Inigo realizes he’s fighting someone better than he is and asks, “Who are you? I must know.” To which Wesley replied, more or less, “Learn to live with disappointment.”
It’s very good advice, since it’s something we all have to do. We don’t get the job we wanted, or a promotion, or raise. The girl or guy we’re nuts for won’t give us the time of day. An elected leader we dared to believe in turns out to have feet of clay. Everyone deals with disappointment on a frequent basis, and it’s certainly not unique to writers. Yet I have to feel that, speaking in terms of a particular professional group, we’ve got it as bad as anyone and worse than most. Mainly because it happens so damn often. So often, in fact, that it’s practically part of the business plan. Every story or query sent out is a potential disappointment. Every time you check your email or mailbox you face the same. For sheer number and frequency of disappointments, we’re practically unrivaled. It’s like being, as others have described it, “nibbled to death by ducks.” Sell five times in a row but get rejected the sixth, and it still hurts. Consider–you don’t send something out, story or novel, unless somewhere, deep down, you think it has a chance. You try not to do it, but you will have expectations. And, time and again, they will be dashed.

When I first started selling, one thing I really wanted was recognition and validation from some of the writers in the field I’d long admired. Didn’t get it, of course, and later learned that it didn’t really matter. Validation doesn’t come from outside; that’s a notion best dispelled quickly. It’s nice when it happens, but it’s extremely unreliable. We are, for the most part, on our own where validation is concerned. We have to supply it ourselves.

Now, please understand — I don’t believe in myself any more or less than I ever have. I believe in what I’ve done and what I’m going to do. I know my work is worthwhile and has been worth doing and will be worth doing, and there’s no editor or reviewer out there who can take that from me, and it’s been tried. “Writer’s Arrogance” I’ve heard that called, and it’s not too far from the truth.

I mean, what else would you call it? Confidence? Oh, please…. It goes far beyond confidence to think that anything you’re written is worth someone else’s precious time and hard-earned money. Yet we think exactly that, and this is the proper mental state to be in or it is much harder to function as writers. Or maybe impossible. Face it, we have to get to that point somewhere along the way, else the disappointments inherent in the system would be too much to take. The ducks, metaphorically, would win, because disappointment never stops. As a writer and a human being (one does try to be both), you just have to learn to live with it.

Or go do something else.

7 thoughts on “Don’t Let the Ducks Win

  1. What I am taking away from this post is this: We must continue to believe in the value of our own work as writers. AMEN!

    • Received wisdom. Manley Wade Wellman once said, “No one except you really believes you can write. Once you quit, you’ve just made it unanimous.”

  2. Pingback: SF Tidbits for 4/24/12 - SF Signal – A Speculative Fiction Blog

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