The two best pieces of advice I ever got about writing were: One, you have to know all the rules before you can break them, otherwise it shows; and, two, should you decide to take your writing on the road, you must believe that rejection is not about you as a person, otherwise you won’t last two minutes.
The first piece of advice, about rules, is actually easy. If you care about words and stories—or building things, or sports, cooking, photography, gardening, whatever—you probably want to be really proficient at this thing you love. If you’re a writer, it’s natural to want prose that shows a command of punctuation, grammar, syntax, and rhythm—because anything less than complete proficiency here takes away from the main event: the story.
But the second piece of advice I got, about rejection—now this one just sucks eggs. Not the advice—it’s right on. It’s the subject matter. Ick. Every writer I know has agonized over rejection. Agonized. I once knew a writer whose query had been rejected eight times, and he absolutely couldn’t figure out what was wrong with them (you do know who them is, right?).
But eight rejections is nothing. Eight rejections is just getting started. So’s fifty rejections, and a hundred.
And unlike actors who go to audition after audition, their “out there” personalities under a spotlight, a requirement of their business, it’s not the same for writers.
Writers aren’t known for spotlights. The act of writing, of creating something from nothing, is a solitary cerebral endeavor, not an “out there” one. And so of course many, many writers’ basic natures are largely introverted—not to say we don’t like people, because that’s not the point or even necessarily true. The point is we require time alone, and often feel drained by the presence of others (it’s not personal; it’s who we are, and we often mesh best with other introverts or “introvert-hybrids” who get this). We’re also self-starters; otherwise, we couldn’t write.
We’re also probably much, much worse at rejection than other artists, whose job descriptions put them front and center from the get-go.
So, yes, rejection can feel covers-over-the-head, chest-pounding devastating. Every submitting writer has been there. I’ve been there, and there’s just no other way of putting it: it sucks dozens of eggs and the hens that laid them. Literary agent Rachelle Gardner recently wrote a post entitled “Do You Have a Thick Skin?” and said, “I’m here to tell you: some of you will never develop a thick skin. But the important thing is: You’ll survive.”
Of course, if you want to excel, if you want to trump yourself, survival in and of itself won’t be enough for you. (my words).
Neither will the metaphorical suit of armor.
It will take all your bravery (dig down deep)—especially for solitary writers not heretofore necessarily known for their great balls of steel, though that doesn’t mean they don’t have them; they just don’t flaunt them—to get out of your own way and consider if the criticism or feedback you’ve received has merit. If it does, be braver still and get out of bed and go back to work. Just do it. If the criticism doesn’t have merit—and criticism is always subjective—still get out of bed and go back to work.
And, yes, it is hard to move forward when you’re not feeling the love. Is it ever. But if you’ve already completed a project, or have made inroads on one, you are already so waaaay ballsy, my friend, sticking to something so hard and making it look easy, meaning you can survive rejection and live to laugh about it, too (though it doesn’t have to be today).
More about survival: The Angry Woman Suite, a novel about a celebrity double murder in the early 1900s, and its effect on three generations of two Pennsylvania families, is just out in print (in addition to e-book format) and is now available via Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites.
Check out amazon.com/author/leefullbright—and thanks for stopping here. Comments are always welcome!
How do you handle criticism?