(That title makes me feel like a clickbait writer.)
Last year was a trying time for me. I had been accepted into a musical theatre course, which was great at first, but turned into a bit of a nightmare in the end. I did learn a lot over the year, though certainly not enough to justify putting myself through that again for a higher qualification at the same place. Screw that.
I’m determined to find something positive from the experience, ableit a grudging one that won’t undo the nonsense I had to deal with. So I’m listing out some things I learned from last year, since they also have some relevance to writing and the publishing industry.
- Everyone has an opinion. You don’t have to listen to all of them. Not all opinions are created equal. Ad hominem attacks, for instance, aren’t worth the air used to express them. Constructive criticism is worth examining before you make a decision about it, but if it doesn’t work for you, discard it.
- Sometimes a jerk is trying to help you. Plenty of people are either bad at expressing themselves or have gotten it into their head that being a jerk will help you in whatever industry you’re looking to enter. Or maybe they’re just overworked or frustrated by somebody who isn’t you.
- But that doesn’t mean jerkish behaviour is justified. Rudeness is still rudeness. If somebody consistently mistreats you, you don’t have to put up with it. Severing a professional or personal relationship with a person who is toxic to you is perfectly acceptable.
- There’s always someone better than you. Everyone’s at a different place in their journey. A writer getting a publishing contract while you’re still getting rejected by agents, or a writer having a more polished manuscript isn’t the end of the world. Learn from the people more experienced than you are.
- But there’s always someone worse than you, too. There’s something you can do that a person you know can’t. It can be something small, like knowing how to punctuate dialogue. A lot of people can’t do that, often through no fault of their own. Be gracious and offer help when appropriate.
- Sometimes you’re not the favourite. That’s not necessarily your fault. You might not be what an agent or publisher are looking for in that moment. Maybe your genre is oversaturated in their opinion, or they feel they can’t sell it. That doesn’t mean someone else will agree. Keep looking.
- Sometimes you have to do things you don’t like. Most of us have something we’re not as stoked about when it comes to writing and publishing. That goes for most industries, especially the creative ones. A lot of writers, for instance, struggle with query letters (here’s an old mad lib that helps with the basics), or editing. A lot of us balk at having to market ourselves. But sometimes we just have to suck it up and do it.
- There’s more to strength than stoicism. Contrary to what some people might say, having a thick skin is not necessary to write professionally, though it can help. Persevering after setbacks, even if you had to cry a little bit first, is a sign of strength. That goes for writers and fictional characters.
- Any experience, including a negative one, can be used in your writing. I still learned things, despite hating being at this place. I have a better understanding of the physical requirements for dancers than I did before, which is useful for writing some of my characters. Some people also take personality traits from people they’ve met, or characteristics of locations they’ve been in, to add to their stories. Every experience you have, no matter how negative, is good for that, at least.
Life throws curveballs sometimes. Something you love can end up being a huge cause of trouble, but that doesn’t mean it will always be like that. Take what you can use and discard everything else. I tend to hold grudges, and I probably will in this case, but that doesn’t mean the whole year was a loss for me. There’s always something you can get out of it.