Thursday, August 23, 2012

Avoiding Bitterness

"Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a writer rejected."

I'm sure we've all encountered them at some time or another--those embittered, I-hate-you-because-I've-never-succeeded writers (or ex-writers) whose dreams have dwindled to shriveled longings that manifest as ugliness, pettiness, grumpiness, or out-and-out vitriol.  Sometimes it's subtle; sometimes it's glaring.  But it all comes from the same root of bitterness that any of us can too well imagine.

It doesn't happen overnight.  In fact, it probably starts like everyone else's journey--those first, painful stings of rejection.  The tears we hope nobody sees.  The vague pangs of jealousy as another, and another, and yet another writing colleague lands a book deal.

That's all pretty normal.  It's part of the journey.  We can learn to grow past it--to acknowledge our emotions and move forward.  (In fact, if we don't give ourselves grace during the times we're fighting with negativity, we're going to make ourselves more miserable.)

But when the bitterness takes a firm hold, something terrible happens to a writer's heart--it hardens.  Hopefulness gives way to doubt and scorn.  Words of congratulations to friends are clipped, forced, or withheld.  Attitudes of kindness and camaraderie devolve into contention and criticism.

Those among us who tend to turn anger outward will leave a path of destruction in our wake--harsh critiques, unfair reviews, petty gossip, angry diatribes against the publishing industry.  And those among us who tend to turn anger inward will wither into cold, silent shells of the creative people they used to be.

Anger, of course, is what happens when we don't deal with our sorrow.  Anger is stronger, more powerful.  Makes us feel in control.  It's when the sorrow of disappointment and rejection morphs into anger that we get into trouble.  And it's when we stay in the anger that something inside us begins to change.

It's not a pretty change.

There is so much kindness and humility and support in this community that the word "bitterness" isn't something that floats to the top when I think about you.  (Yes, I think about you.  Is that weird?)  But it is something we all need to guard against.

Because it's like a snake--silent, smooth, undulating its way in and refusing to crawl out again.

What's a writer to do?

  • Be honest with yourself about your feelings.  Allow yourself to mourn, to cry, to throw bricks out your bedroom window, to quit for a day.  
  • Give yourself grace.  If you catch yourself feeling jealous of a friend or angry at an agent's cold form response, acknowledge it without bashing yourself.
  • Forgive.  Yourself, the harsh critter, the recalcitrant agent, the egotistical editor.  Don't let the sun set while you're still angry about something.  Forgiveness diffuses the anger that wants to turn into long-term bitterness.
  • Stop paying attention to the small stuff--annoying tweets, naysayers, bestselling authors who make grammatical errors--and focus on YOUR WORK and YOUR DREAMS.
  • Keep giving.  Your time, your ideas, your support, your kindness, your advice, your heart.  You do have something to offer, and focusing on what you have to give will keep you from crawling into a corner and lamenting about what you don't have.

It's a wonderful journey, but like any adventure, it's got pitfalls and snags and wrong turns along the way.  I believe we can hold each other accountable and stay on the right path without losing our way in the forest of bitterness.  

Do you agree?

One final, naked moment:  I need you.  This community helps keep me grounded and accountable.  You give me something to pour into when I feel too empty to pour (and yet, somehow, it happens anyway).  You make me smile, you remind me what's important, and you give intense satisfaction every time you meet a goal or have a revelation or take a baby step forward.

Collectively, there is no way this community will ever make room for bitterness--or for anything else destructive.  And that, my dear colleagues, is amazing and inspiring.

Thank you, as always, for who you are and for what you give.  Your contribution is immeasurable.


  1. Thanks. :) I'm new to all this, but I worry, sometimes, how bitter I might become with all the pressure.

  2. I absolutely love this. And you're right...this is an amazingly supportive community to be a part of. If you're feeling upset about a hiccup in your writing journey, post about it on Twitter, and I bet at least three writers will be there to console or help you. You just have to be open to the love.
    : )

  3. Hmm--I've never met these bitter writers! I think maybe once, on a writing workshop a while ago, a really talented writer was really fed up with everyone else because of how much they sucked, but I read him more as arrogant than bitter. Maybe he was suffering from this that you've mentioned.

    Otherwise, most of the writers I know, book deals or not, don't seem that bitter.

    I like how this applies to other areas of life, too, though.

  4. I've given up on agents from earth with only two eyes and have started to transmit my query into space via radio signals. Currently I have nine outstanding from the first batch of ten I sent out.

    Unfortunately, my first response was a rejection. They said they were looking for a young adult romantic triangle with vampires and werewolfs, and that although they thought my science fiction query of earth being invaded by aliens was interesting, they felt the science fiction genre is overdone.

    But still, I think that's pretty good since radio waves travel at the speed of light, which is around 5.879 Trillion Miles a year. Also, they did personalize the rejection by addressing it to Dear Human.

    I also tried sending queries back in time with my computer but windows keeps crashing on me. I phoned Microsoft and they told me they were sure it was a problem with the hardware. (go figure.)

    Laughter is the best medicine.
    Have a great writing day everyone.

  5. One of the things I love about your blog is the chance to read a mix of other writer's material. People are so creative.

    It fascinates me how readers see the same words, but form such different opinions about them. It also gives me great hope, as it helps me understand that agents, editors and publishers reflect similar differences of opinion.

    Give a little, get a little.

  6. I'm not bitter, yet--mostly because I don't have a chance to be. At present, nothing's standing in my way but me. Later, the rest of the world might have more influence, but for now, I know exactly where all the problems are.

    I've been lucky to be part of a few really good communities where everyone is helpful and invested, and I haven't really seen much bitterness. However, I do think I see the beginnings of it in some people. It's just the way they advise and then toss in a humorous, self deprecation... one that might just be a little too honest, and I imaginge the smilie following it smiles just a little too tightly... And you just know they've been through the ringer.

    It's very sad sometimes.

  7. Well said. Thank you. For me, it sometimes means I need to take a break from social media to get my head straight. And I console myself that at least the good news of the people I care about most always brightens my day, no matter how many rejections I've received that day. And I keep writing. No matter what.

  8. Ignoring the small stuff is imperative. It's been the saving grace for me on many occasions. Focus on yourself and your work, and find joy in that.

    Excellent post, heartfelt words.

  9. Beautifully written, as usual. This is a post to which I'll return if and when I start feeling lousy. Meanwhile, throwing bricks out of the window sounds like a good way to take care of things.

  10. This is why I love you and your blog and your honesty. Thank you so much for all you do. *hugs*

  11. Thank you for putting these very real feelings out there. Jealousy/bitterness is something every writer experiences at some point, regardless of how successful they become.

  12. Authoress--you have the best attitude in the business. =)

  13. Like Vicki, above, taking a breather from social media usually helps me feel better if I notice I'm getting too negative. Social media often seems like a big celebration of everyone's accomplishments, and it's hard to read all that if I'm feeling down. If I take a break from it, I can sit down and focus again on the writing, and remember how much fun it is, and forget about comparing myself to others.

  14. Lovely words (and words to live by no doubt).
    I'm pretty new to this community, but am grateful for what you've created here. Much thanks.

  15. I think the most important thing is not to let your jealousy cause you to find fault in others' successes (no matter how small they are) and voice it to them. And when you are successful, don't go on and on and on about your success to the person you've hurt when you constantly rained on her parade, especially if you're going to find fault in the person's little success in the same email. That's never cool! Don't let success go to your head. Remember, you were once an aspiring writer, too.

    Thanks, Authoress, for this post. :D

  16. Authoress and Fellow FV's: You continue to inspire and amaze. Like a bee--the sting of rejection hurts at first, then creates an itch I just gotta scratch. This community offers so much beyond the craft. I'm glad to play a small part.

  17. Oh, and don't forget to surround yourself with supportive friends. Cut loose anyone who you can tell is going be anything but. Publishing is tough enough as it is. It's the supportive community we have that makes it less painful. :D

  18. "Anger, of course, is what happens when we don't deal with our sorrow. Anger is stronger, more powerful. Makes us feel in control. It's when the sorrow of disappointment and rejection morphs into anger that we get into trouble. And it's when we stay in the anger that something inside us begins to change."

    What amazing true words for all of life. Thanks for another wonderful insightful post.

    Happy almost Friday!

  19. YOU are "amazing and inspiring." Thank you for building a place for us to help each other.

    Spending time in nature, doing something for a friend, playing with kids, exercising: there are things that put rejection in perspective. It still stings, but I don't need to lash out or wither. I might rant a bit (privately), but then a writer revises or moves on. Times I have chosen to dwell on the negative (even for a little bit) have only paralyzed me, kept me from being productive.

  20. So when I throw those bricks, is it okay if I aim for certain people?

    Kidding! You are spot on, as usual. But sometimes I find it hard to deal with a certain someone in my life who is the type to let everyone know how IMPORTANT they are, although my snarky self felt better when I found out the published opus was through a vanity press, and the big book tour was one obscure radio station. I wish this person all the best, but if I have to hear one more time about how popularity (their mom) demands a second book, or how if you look at the right second in so-and-so movie you will see their elbow, which of course makes them a STAR, I'm heading to the brickyard to stock up.:)

    My inner self acknowledges this person obviously has a lack of self-esteem and makes up for it with the "Look at me!" personality, but my outer self has TMJ from gritting my teeth!

    When it comes down to it, I want everyone to be successful, because there's room for us all to do well. And we will!

  21. So true! I once heard a man speak who put it this way:

    "Obviously we suffer a little when some misfortune befalls us, but envy requires us to suffer all good fortune that befalls everyone we know! What a bright prospect that is—downing another quart of pickle juice every time anyone around you has a happy moment!"
    -Jeffrey R. Holland

    Not a good way to live!

  22. Thanks for this reminder. It was a good prompt for introspection. Thanks for your encouragement and providing some more pathways to the publishing gatekeepers for all us writers out there.

    You are fabulous, Authoress!

  23. I've been on this wonderful blog for a few years now. I have, indeed, felt happiness for all the success stories (secretly envied, of course), shared all the pangs of rejection, cried at some rather harsh critiques, and learned from all of the above, that Authoress is our shining star in the black, cold space of publishing. On my bitter days - which are more than less now after 6 years of revising and rejections - she always manages to give me the strength, perspective, and courage to soldier on. Hugs, M'am...for always being there when I need that slap in the face to get past the bitters!

  24. Great post! A crit buddy of mine has simply opted out due to bitterness. So sad to see her give up. The next ms could have been "the one." She was close. Your advice as always is spot on: Forgiveness and Grace. Red wine and chocolate help, too! : )

  25. I've met some lovely, encouraging, uplifting, and humble writers here and it was the first place I landed when trying to connect with other writers. It's such a solitary business, and when you're starting out, reaching out can be so daunting. I love that the writing community - here and in general - is full of such encouraging people that help you through the not-so-nice bits! Thanks for doing what you do.

  26. Beautiful! And oh so true!

    Sue Townsend, one of my favorite British authors, handled this with great humor in her "Adrian Mole" series when Adrian, who has been wanting to kick out the little old lady in their writing group who writes really awful poems about her cat, finds out she landed a book deal!

    I found out a long time ago there will always be someone smarter than me, someone prettier than me, someone more talented than me. As long as I strive to be the very best me I can be, that should be my reward. Just because someone else reached their star doesn't mean there's not another star up there for me, too. There's enough stars for all of us and then some, so get writing!

  27. You need us Authoress? We need you! I can never say thank you enough for all the inspiration and encouragement you've given me as a writer. I've learned so much from your blog and the writers who contribute to it.

    The world you give is the world you take. Hope. Strive. Achieve. And if you fail- repeat, repeat, repeat!

  28. You are a beautiful person. I wish I knew you personally, though I feel I already do.
    Zara Penney

  29. This is a beautiful post, and all too true. Publishing is a long (and often painful) journey for many of us.

    But it's sites like yours, Authoress, and people like you who make such a difference.

    Thank you.

  30. Amazing post. I loved it. And it's so true. I've been very lucky. Most of my critique partners have been very helpful, supportive. As I grew to know them better, they've become more open, more blunt, more nitpicky, in their critiques. But always encouraging and never cruel.
    I've seen bitter ones, too. But what keeps me going is the stories I read about other writers who finally manage to get a book deal. I see the humbleness in them. A quality which comes from pure grit.
    Thank you, Authoress

  31. I'm worried a little about becoming that bitter person. It's so easy to get frustrated-- like every time I reach my goal, someone's moved it just out of reach. And then, to find something I'm reading where the book has the mistake I just corrected... I admit to gnashing my teeth.

    And that's when I step back, stop sending queries, and just breathe for a while. Jealous is allowed. Not bitter, though. And I'll be back to sending queries in a week or two, once I've rewritten my first chapter again.

  32. I think I'm more susceptible to apathy than bitterness.

    As in, losing the will to keep fighting for it :)

    This online community you have here is always a good motivator to kick my own ass back into motion whenever I start to stall.

    So thanks ;)

  33. Omigosh. This was an amazing post. You nailed everything right on the head. There are people out there who are just plain silly. We need to overlook them and keep our eyes on our own goals. And focus on where we are in our own journey. Thanks for this!

  34. Thank you for this post, uh, may I call you FV? I'm in that place where I'm waiting to hear from editors, and am subject to all the mad-hard/frustrating things you said in this post. It's always great and humbling and inspiring to be reminded how not alone we aspiring writers are, and how easy it is, really, to give support to each other.

  35. Wow! You continue to amaze me with your insightful words, generosity and spirit. Thank you, Miss Snark for continuing to help all of us in this community.

  36. I've been on vacation for a couple of weeks and it was good for me to get away from the unsettling atmosphere of querying. But I was looking forward to a few things, and your blog was one. Not just because of the contests (they totally stress me out even though I know they are a helpful thing...).
    It was because of posts like this.
    Thanks for being the voice of wisdom from time to time.