By Kerry Schafer
This past week I ran across a Facebook post that bothered me. Only one, you say? Yeah, I hear you. There’s a lot of stuff on Facebook that is inane or stupid or downright inflammatory. This one was masquerading as good stuff. It was just one of those inspirational posters – a pretty picture and a quote meant to make you a better or at least a more thoughtful person. This was a picture of a lovely old barn with a barred door. The message read:
If the door won’t open, then it’s not your door.
Now chances are that my life would be a whole lot happier and more peaceful if I were the sort of person who follows this sage advice. I would also be agentless and unpublished. Maybe I wouldn’t ever have completed any novels. Because those doors, my friends, didn’t open easily for me. What if I’d queried a couple of times, collected my rejections, and just sighed with resignation and walked away, saying, ‘Guess it’s not my door. Publication is not for me.”
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a big believer in mindfully accepting the things I cannot change. Like the weather, for example. Wishing it bright and sunny on a rainy foggy day is a waste of energy. But I also know how terrifyingly easy it is to tell myself comforting little lies.
This is not my problem.
This is too hard.
This is not my door.
Sometimes these thoughts may be true. But often it’s fear and self doubt talking. Just because a door sticks a little doesn’t mean it isn’t mine to enter. Even if it’s locked, maybe I’ve had one of my blonde moments and misplaced the key. Or locked myself out by mistake. Or maybe it isn’t my door but I need to engage in a little breaking and entering to rescue somebody on the other side. Or, you know, get at the buried treasure…. Sure, there’s probably an easier door somewhere, but what’s the fun in that? Most of the doors that don’t have locks on them lead into places not worth entering.
I mean, what if Gandalf and company had walked away from the Doors of Durin? Picture that. Gandalf gives the doors a try or two and says, “Well friends, this door is not ours. It will not allow us to pass.” And with that, wizard, dwarves, and hobbits all go back to where they came from. Okay, sure, they wouldn’t have wakened the thing in the deep and Gandalf wouldn’t have had his near death experience and a lot of danger and destruction would never have happened. But just look at the story we would all have missed out on!
As writers, I think we’ll be forever coming up against locked doors. Sometimes we’re shut out by the manuscript itself — the plot that won’t quite come together, the contrary character, an awkward sentence construction that refuses to flow. And the publishing business is pretty much composed of barriers. Rejections from agents and editors, books that don’t sell, series that don’t take off, bad reviews. Indie writers face stigma and distribution problems and questions of how to finance covers and editors. Let’s face it, there is no easy way to be successful in this business.
Every now and then some writer gets lucky and all of the doors magically open while angel choirs sing. Most of us aren’t going to have this experience. Of course, beating our heads bloody against a solidly sealed door is not productive. But neither is giving up. So what are we to do?
Let’s go back to Gandalf and company at Moria. The inscription on those doors could only be seen by moonlight and starlight. And the right words needed to be spoken in order to gain entrance. Even a great wizard like Gandalf had to work at getting inside.
So it is for us. When the doors don’t open, it might be that the time isn’t right. Or that we’re lacking the knowledge and skill we need to gain entrance. If the doors of publishing seem to be locked against you, here are a few things you can try.
- Increase your knowledge. Take some classes or go to conferences.
- Don’t try to do it alone. Connect with other writers to form your own adventuring fellowship. It’s helpful to have others people’s eyes and brains and creative energy involved.
- Keep writing. This is the only way to become a better writer.
- Keep on testing the doors. You never know when the stars are going to align and that door that shut you out is going to open.