Resilience. It’s a simple thing, right? The ability to bounce back up after getting knocked down, bent and scarred, but stronger for the experience? A well-crafted protagonist positively exudes resilience, shaking their fist at the heavens as they drag themselves out of the mud for just one … more … round.
Resilience makes for great fiction.
But I’m not talking about fiction. I’m talking about you, the writer of that fiction. Because you, Writer, are the hero of your own story. You are your own protagonist, and to succeed in writing, you need resilience just like your well-crafted protagonist. Writing is hard. We hear the word “no” a LOT. It can feel brutal, personal, and disheartening.
But, like your protagonist, you too can come up swinging despite everything the world throws at you.
How? Through resilience.
I could talk about the tenets of resilience here, about hunting the good stuff in every situation, or about having a healthy support network, which are good things to know, do, and have. But for me resilience is about one thing:
Changing my perspective.
Let me tell you a story.
My writing journey began in the oral tradition of trying to convince my daughter to Go To Sleep with inventive stories. I borrowed from the classics a bit, chucked the protagonists, and made her the hero. She tamed dragons, fought evil witches, and rescued friends from the villain-of-the-week. As you might imagine, my grand plan for a sleepy child failed miserably. After years of Just One More Story, I started transcribing my midnight ramblings to keep my storylines straight. Children are ruthless in identifying errors in fairy tales. In the end, I had two-and-a-half midgrade novels that I thought were pretty good.
Literary agents disagreed. Every. Single. One.
And it hurt.
After two years of querying, rejections, and heartache, I finally realized that something needed to change. I could have given up. I almost did. But then I decided to try something new to achieve my dream of publication. Surely the competition wasn’t nearly so brutal in the short story market. Let’s try that.
Oh, how little I knew.
But that perspective change was the beginning, and Google was kind to me. I Googled “how to write a short story” and “writing contest” and like a beacon of hope, Writers of the Future flashed before me at the top of both searches. So, I took the Writers of the Future free Online Workshop.
I was forced to change my perspective again.
I thought I’d known how to write. Sure, I could string sentences together, but I knew nothing about story structure, pacing, plot, suspense … the list goes on. There’s a reason my midgrade novels weren’t selling. I had to humble myself and become teachable.
So, I did. I studied the principles that L. Ron Hubbard, Dave Farland, Tim Powers, and Orson Scott Card were teaching and applied them to my first-ever short story. I then submitted that story to this little contest called Writers of the Future.
It earned an Honorable Mention. My first validation in writing! And all because I changed my perspective.
Then I found the Writers of the Future Forum and Wulf Moon’s Super Secrets thread. I saw how Moon’s Annual Super Secret’s Challenge was developing and growing writers. They were getting published and winning Writers of the Future! So, I tried to sign up.
Moon said, “No.”
Okay, he was nicer about it than that. It was more like, “Sorry, buddy, but no new members in the middle of the challenge year. Besides, you don’t qualify. Entry is restricted to those with a Silver Honorable Mention or above.” (You can read his full response here: www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/37620/)
He was polite, but it was still a rejection, and rejection hurts. I could have taken it to heart, wallowed in the disappointment, but I didn’t. I am the protagonist of my own story. I changed my perspective and said, “Challenge accepted.”
I followed Moon’s annual challenge from the sidelines. I read through EVERY POST of the Super Secrets thread and applied the principles to my writing. This was no passive education. I found other new writers on the forum, and we sparred together with writing exercises and critique swaps. I wrote fresh, and I submitted to Writers of the Future every quarter. I studied the Super Secrets of Writing like a law student studies for the LSATs.
I received another Honorable Mention.
Then a Silver Honorable Mention.
Then Moon upped the stakes. He accepted me into the Volume 39 Super Secrets Challenge Year, made me the Keeper of Records, and required all challenge members to submit to Writers of the Future and other markets. I’d never submitted to another market.
But I did it. I sent my stories out. And the rejections started rolling in.
It was like novel querying all over again. Rejection after rejection. And they hurt! I’d go into an emotional spiral for days or even weeks after a rejection. But then someone (sadly, I can’t remember who) gave me advice that I’ll never forget:
They aren’t rejections. They’re returns. Like a library book that you’ve lent to an editor. Accept the return and give the story to the next editor to read. Not everybody likes every story, but eventually, you’ll find someone who loves it.
That was a major perspective change. That was Writing Resilience in a nutshell. I took the advice to heart and kept lending out my stories. Sure, the returns might still hurt, but they weren’t (usually) crushing. And if they were, I would let myself feel the feelings, acknowledge the disappointment but never wallow in it. Send the story back out and give someone else a chance to enjoy it. And keep the story out to market until it sold.
Then, only days later, tragedy struck. Dave Farland, Writers of the Future Coordinating Judge and mentor to many, passed away. The writing community went into mourning. Many felt crushed under the loss, adrift and alone and unable to cope. Some turned to writing and penned gorgeous and heartbreaking stories. I tried to do the same, but the story just wouldn’t come together. I couldn’t write a tragedy about death. It was too painful, dredging up memories of family and friends I’d lost along the way.
So, I did what I always do. I changed my perspective. If I couldn’t write a tragedy, I’d write a comedy. Thus was my Writers of the Future winning story, “Death and the Taxman” born. From a changed perspective. From a habit of resilience, of finding a way to pick myself up out of the mud, shake my fist at the heavens, and go for one … more … round.
Since then, I’ve continued to sell stories. I won’t tell you how many returns I get, but it’s a lot. And sometimes, they still hurt. But resilience isn’t about rejecting the pain. It’s about turning it into something useful. Changing that perspective and driving on.
You, Writer, are the hero of your own story. When defeat, disappointment, and despair knock you down, will you succumb? Or will you write yourself a protagonist’s dose of resilience, change your perspective, and come up swinging?
It’s up to you.
David Hankins is a Writers of the Future Volume 39 winner who writes from the thriving cornfields of Iowa, where he lives with his wife, daughter, and two dragons disguised as cats. His stories have graced the pages of DreamForge Magazine, Unidentified Funny Objects Anthologies, Third Flatiron Anthologies, and others. David devotes his time to his passions of writing, traveling, and finding new ways to pay his mortgage.
You can find him at https://davidhankins.com.