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It’s about rejection. Rejection is hard. No one knows this more than writers.
Every writer I know has an uncommon tenacity and the ability to simultaneously feel the horrid blows of rejection, all while putting on the blinders that allow us to barrel forward, slogging through self-doubt (and occasionally the doubt of our families, acquaintances and coworkers.)
I’ve known so many talented writers whose work will never see the light of day because, for whatever reason, the blow of rejection is too painful. I can’t judge them as I once did. I understand. Months and often years of rejection can break anyone down. Sometimes when I think about how painful rejection is, I marvel that anyone writes at all.
But here is where I think it’s so important to focus on the small triumphs, the mini-causes for celebration that all eventually add up to the dream coming true. If writers follows the simple formula of working their heineys (sp?) off to hone their craft, educate themselves about the industry, and behave in a generally professional and respectful way, mini-triumphs can’t help but follow. Note: It’s amazing how many people do not do these BASIC THINGS, which is why you deserve hugs and wine FOR doing them.
If you are working tirelessly to improve your writing, you have already triumphed. If you have the capacity to step back from your work, see it as an entity separate from yourself, critique it objectively—ALL WHILE loving it tenderly and being brokenhearted over it and praying every day that it bears fruit and cradling it like a baby—you are a remarkable human being. You have mastered the dual capacity to be detached and engaged. You adore your story, while standing back far enough to reinvent the thing and chisel it and listen to it. You are a needy parent letting your child fly. Don’t the Buddhists call this something?
If you are actually submitting this work once it’s ready, you can relish in this triumph as well. Really, take a moment. Don’t go straight from this monumental achievement to agonizing about possibly impending rejection. You are amazing, one brave, brave creature. You have shipped your child, warts and all, into the world, and are now willing to sit back and have strangers (whose eyes are cold and uncaring in your imagination, I’m sure) assess your baby and tell you where you’ve failed as a parent. Really, it’s like the worst parent-teacher conference in the world. “Your plot lacks dynamism” can sound a lot like “Johnny doesn’t play well with others.” But if you have mastered the previous step of honing your craft, you have already proved yourself to be someone who can hear another person tell you your story-child has warts. Who can hear the possible gems of truth and constructive advice in the criticism. You have a crazy, tenacious faith in your story-child. In yourself. More wine.
And then you may get some form rejections. You’d think writing was the hardest part, but I think often this is. Bearing it is just terrible. You feel like a faceless entity in a sea of successful authors, like a sad sap wandering around with a tattered story under your arm while the wind whistles on the pier. You feel you are shouting into a void, that the industry itself is an impenetrable fortress of suited, hateful story-hoarders. Ironically, the very strength you have worked so hard to cultivate—sensitivity, vulnerability—now turns its vicious flip-side onto you, and lets you feel every single arrow of every single rejection.
Am I not making this any easier? Well, here’s my point—you may want to shoot me for saying this if you’re in this phase, but being able to feel this pain will ultimately serve you. One day. It will either allow you to shape your story further, or help you develop empathy for struggling writers, or make you feel more like part of the world at large, of what it is like to fight and work for something. Of what it’s like to get out of your own way and separate your own self-worth from the mistakes in what you’ve created. Perhaps it will help you learn to be gentle with yourself, to pamper yourself during difficult times. These are lessons that will bleed over into your other life, your real life, where they will be invaluable. Whatever it will do, if you stick with pursuing publication beyond this phase, it will strengthen you. I am not just saying this. I have been there. Here, you may have a whole bottle.
And then you get personalized rejections. This is a call for an enormous woot-woot. You have managed to catch a busy, busy agent’s or editor’s attention and they have bothered to let you know that your writing caught their eye. Out of the hundreds of submissions they see weekly, something about your writing gave them pause. Do you know how amazing this is? How incredible? This ought to give you hope, if nothing else does. Take heart. Wine, please.
And then the requests to see more come in. Sometimes the story will ultimately get rejected, sometimes it will be bought; but regardless, by this point, you probably know enough about the industry, have probably been beaten down and whipped around and left for dead enough times by the wacky world of publishing, to know that it is your tenacity and perseverance that count, that it is your willingness to keep trying, keep going, keep developing yourself as a writer that did it. And you would probably offer similar advice to beginning writers.
Because, remember, all through this process of developing your story-world and researching and revising and editing your work, your real life is happening alongside. Your mundane, everyday, buying-pet food, changing-the-tire-on-the-car life goes on. And this life can benefit enormously from the lessons in pursuing publication. The whole process can take a long, long time. There are no guarantees, ever. You don’t want to look back and realize that one or three or five or ten years of your life have been spent in a self-loathing frenzy of trying to get published, without ever sitting back to truly celebrate your successes, small as they may seem. They’re not. If you allow the process to change you, then the subterranean space in which the stories happen will become richer, deeper, wilder and braver, too.