31 May 2012

Rejection. How do you handle it? How does anyone handle it? When someone hands back to you something you spent months writing and tells you it's not good enough, what do you do to keep from breaking?
It started with a question and turned into a discussion; how can a writer not take it personally when something they've spent the better part of a year working on is met with frustrating rejection? After relying on friends and family to edit and critique, you take a deep breath and send it out, only to get either an email or snail mail with the words, “Sorry. Not for us.” When it happens over and over, it beats you down and makes you question everything.

The problem, as I was seeing it, is that too many of those involved in the discussion were taking those rejections as personal criticism. The first rejection stings, the second burns, the third is like a knife wound. All that pain accumulates and feels like the world is telling you that you suck and you should stop writing. It was writers commiserating with writers, a few of whom had been at it long enough to really understand.

It's not personal. Those rejection letters aren't an attack on a writer's personal worth; they're simply notice that the work submitted was not something the publisher could use at that time. It wasn't the right fit. Maybe the timing was off. True, the letter might also mean that the manuscript was riddled with grammatical and spelling errors, that it made little sense, and that it was poorly written, but it's not a personal indictment. It just is what it is.

Have you ever watched a movie that fell just a bit short, and left the theater thinking that it could have been so much better—great, even—if only one or two things had been changed? That it might have had a chance at a best picture award if the lead had been played by someone other than That Big Name Actor?

That Big Name Actor is really good, but if you close your eyes and picture That Other Guy in the role, it makes more sense. It fits better. The delivery of lines, the innate facial ticks, all the little nuances that That Other Guy could have brought to the table would have made all the difference.

The truth of that doesn't change the fact that That Big Name Actor is incredibly talented and you'd probably pay to see him read out of the Yellow Pages; he just wasn't the perfect fit for that particular role. It's no different with writers and publishers; your story might be wonderful. It might be worthy of automatic inclusion on this year's The Best Of list in the literary circles. It just wasn't right for that particular magazine/book publisher/blog.

I got so many rejections a few years back that I just stopped writing. It was horrible; all those things I needed to write about were stuck living inside my head, and I guess I thought the only way to quiet the noise was to self-medicate. And that turned ugly.
Writers have long history of drug and alcohol abuse; hell, Stephen King admits he doesn't remember writing Cujo because of all the coke he was doing. I've read articles by writers who admit they find the use of marijuana helps them write past their inhibitions; I've read work by those same people that were written while not under the influence of anything, and it often kinda sucks.

I'm willing to bet, though, that of you gave those same people a drink and told them it had whatever their demon of choice was in it and then let them set about writing, they'd write as if they were under the influence.

You won't be a better writer under the influence; you just allow yourself to be less inhibited. And you won't quiet the noise in your head, either. If you really want to quiet it, then sit down and write. Let the noise out and pour in onto virtual paper. Give yourself permission to be who you are, even in the face of more rejection letters than you ever thought possible.

All those rejections don't make you less of a writer. You write because that's what you are. You don't need to wait for the roar to dull, for the drugs to kick in; you don't need to write for an audience. You just need to write—start a blog, keep a journal, write fan fiction, write truly horrible genre fiction for the shits and grins. No one ever has to see it, but that noise will be less painful if you keep at it and don't try to smother it.

Yeah, the rejections sting. They sting because it matters to you. But it's not personal, and getting enough of them to insulate your house isn't reason enough to stop writing.

Write to hone your craft, and write to keep your sanity.

It's not just about writers, either. Change that to just about anything. Photography, dance, acting.

Become one with your camera, show your pictures online.

Choreograph your own dance; record it and show it on You Tube.

Sink your teeth into community theater, take the role offered even if it's not the one you want.

You're still shooting pictures, still sharing your grace with the world, still shedding your own skin and taking on someone else's.

But how does one handle the rejection? You just do. You suck it up and move on and try to remember that it's part of a business and not an indictment against your talent or yourself. In college one of my English professors said that until you get a rejection, you're not a “real” writer—and within a year or two we'd all be consummate professionals, with enough of them to be the root cause of the death of an acre or two of forest.

He was a writer who sold his work consistently...and who shared his many weekly rejection letters with the class.

I doubt he enjoyed getting them, but he'd learned to shrug them off.

In the last ten years or so I've been a part of a dozen variations of the same discussion. I would imagine that in the coming decade, I'll be part of it over and over again.

The answers don't really change, though.

Just keep at it.

It really is that simple.


Christie Critters said...

Thanks. I needed to read this today. I'm stuck in a story that means a lot to me, but WHO ELSE WILL CARE? As you pointed out, it really doesn't matter. I'm writing for me.

caircair said...

Just remember, Dr. Seuss' first book "And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street" was rejected by - according to Seuss - 28 or 29 publishing companies before it was bought by Vanguard Press. Some have put the number even higher at around 43 rejection letters before he sold the book. It's gone on to become a classic, and he didn't do too badly for himself after that.

Sleepypete said...

This is a really awesome post :-)

"You just need to write—start a blog, keep a journal, write fan fiction,"
Definitely - I write my blog mostly because if I didn't, I'd drive myself insane with all those random thoughts running round in my head. I'd have no outlet for them. The noise would rumble so much it wouldn't let me sleep, I'd be a total wreck.

(It used to be gaming that would let me shut down the thought rumble noise - but I don't game so much now)

I don't handle rejection too well. Something in me just doesn't understand it.

Fox Trotters said...

This came at the right time. Thanks for sharing

Cheysuli and gemini said...

Kristine Kathryn Rusch talks about the fact that a rejection is just a rejection from ONE reader--yes that reader is a professional reader, probably an editor, but it's ONE PERSON'S opinion. She's edited Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. She admits she never would have purchased Harry Potter. The first book started so slowly. It was a horrible beginning and as an editor and thinking like an editor and what she wanted to see, she would have passed. Some other editor is thrilled with that opinion!

Every person has preferences. For the most part, the interest in a particular story/book is more about the interest that particular person has than about the merits of the story. If it was about the merits of the story we would not have a lot of popular fiction, like say... Twilight.

If you write for yourself, those people who share your taste in reading will like it too--so it's just a matter of finding the people who can make a difference--and if you can't--well now there are great places like Amazon where you can do it yourself! :)

G.G. Mueller said...

Thumper, somehow I missed this when you posted it. But, it rings true for lawyers (trial lawyers, at least). We work our brains out, usually just running around with the case in our heads. It spins and sits then spins again. You eat, sleep and bathe with it.
Then when the trial comes you get 12 people who didn't care what you did or how you said it. TH
hey make up their minds in their own way.
As a defense attorney, we are suppose to get use to losing. We are SUPPOSE to lose if the system is working right. But sometimes, hell, very often it is hard to take.
I have learned in the last 30 years that it is not about me. (except in my own head) and that there is more work to be done.
A very hard lesson.