Struggling writer? Listen to “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner.

I don’t watch the show “Mad Men,” but I was inspired when fellow MS Editor Lara Willard sent me an article by the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner.

His is a story that most writers and creatives can relate to: the need to write no matter what, coupled with years of rejection. He didn’t let it stop him; on the contrary, he says,  “Rejection enrages me, but that ‘I’ll show you!’ feeling is an extremely powerful motivator.”

I know that feeling. I had two “I’ll show you!” moments with college mentors, and both have stuck with me ever since. The first was my advisor, who told me straight-up, “You’ll never be assertive enough to be a freelancer.” When I got the taste of the work, though, of using what I knew about good writing to help other writers become better writers, I was hooked. I knew I had to prove her wrong, so I grew, I did the work, and I succeeded.

I got a chance to talk to that advisor the other day, and I told her that story. She told me that I hadn’t been assertive enough in college, but that she could tell that I had grown. We parted happily, and not until after she had told me that she was really, really happy to be wrong.

An “I’ll show you” moment also came up in my own creative writing. I’ve always loved to create using words, but the pressure to perform in college creative writing classes killed my storytelling almost completely. A teacher told me that the thing I wanted to create didn’t and couldn’t exist (side note: it does!), and I knew in that moment that it was going to be my life goal to prove her wrong, too. I wanted to write, and well. I wanted to create my specific thing, and  I wanted it to succeed.

I hope it does. While my journey as an editor is well underway, my journey as a writer is just beginning. Matthew Weiner has something to say about that, too:

“The most defeatist thing I hear is, ‘I’m going to give it a couple of years.’ You can’t set a clock for yourself. If you do, you are not a writer. You should want it so badly that you don’t have a choice. You have to commit for the long haul. There’s no shame in being a starving artist. Get a day job, but don’t get too good at it. It will take you away from your writing.”

My “day job” is editing now, and I do want to stay “too good” at it. Having said that, I am working to set aside time in my days for creative writing. It’s not just the “I’ll show you!” feeling motivating me; it’s what I need to do.

I know that many of you are in that same boat. You’ve had people tell you that your writing just doesn’t cut it, or that your stories just don’t have a place in this market. You’ve received more rejection letters than you would care to admit, and you’re starting to wonder if you’ll ever make it. If that’s true, read Matthew Weiner’s full piece here. See how rough the journey to “Mad Men” was for him, and let him tell you why he stuck with it. Then, think about what it is that makes you stick with your work.

Don’t ever give up–if writing is who you are, it’s worth every ounce of struggle and work you put into it. As long as you’re writing, you’re succeeding at being who you have chosen to be.


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