Sunday, July 04, 2010

Recovering from Rejection

Few truisms exist in writing. For every writer who swears by an outline, there is one who swears at them. For every writer who needed an agent to make it big, there is one who did just fine without one.

But some universals do exist.

One is: A Writer Writes. (This has a huge “duh!” factor, but you’d be surprised how many people talk about writing or fantasize about it without actually doing it. This doesn’t make them writers any more than fantasizing about being married helps one find Mr. Right.)

Another is: A Writer Reads. (Also known as “continuing education.” Writers who don’t read start to think that they’re all that and a bag of chips. From there, it’s a short and slippery slope before they realize that the bag is nearly empty and the remaining crumbs are stale.)

And one is: Every Writer Will Experience Rejection.

“Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, at this time, we must pass on your material. It is in no way a reflection of your writing. We wish you the best of luck in your search for an agent / publisher / meaning in life.”

This is the one that many – OK, most -- writers have difficulty accepting.

Rejection is neither a recurring nightmare nor a beloved friend. Instead, rejection is like the ugly crone at a family reunion: inescapable and cruel, but lacking real teeth, so unable to do lasting damage.

Every writer responds to rejection differently. I have, however, noticed certain trends. These fall into three general categories. I encourage you to scan the list below and see if one or more describes you.

How is this useful? Well…

The next time you experience rejection, perhaps it will help to know that there are others just like you out there, going through the same thing, and reacting in the same way. You. Are not. Alone.

Option 1. Fortify Oneself With Food Before Rejoining the Fray

For some reason, oatmeal and soy milk are not equipped to help one handle rejection well.

When a “No, we don’t want your pathetic excuse for a screenplay / article / short story / poem / title. No one does. Perhaps you should consider a career serving fries at McDonald’s” bomb lands in one’s in-box, it is often best defused with copious amounts of Comfort Food. Capital C. Capital F.

My drug of choice is Little Debbie NuttyBars. Or Heath Bars. Or half a sheet cake. Or a bag of rippled potato chips. With coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

Those empty calories not only pack on the pounds so the slings and arrows of outrageous rejection no longer sting so badly, but they also provide the fortitude to keep on writing. Or they trigger a diabetic coma. Either way, one moves on.

From @RhondaLane ”Give myself overnight to mourn, cuss, stomp, OD on chocolate. Next morning, back to work.”

@amandabonilla advises “After you're done crying and eating pints of ice cream... (It’s like she’s been watching me through a webcam!) pick yourself off the floor and KEEP WRITING! :)

Option 2: Blast! This Lottery Ticket Isn’t a Winner. I Must Buy Another.

If one publisher / agent / editor does not give you the answer you seek (i.e. “Yes! We love it! You are brilliant! We must sign a multi-manuscript contract with you as soon as humanly possible!”), persevere in the knowledge that sooner or later someone has to win the lottery. But you can’t win if you don’t play.

Words of wisdom from @SimonKewin: “Have several submissions out there at once. Then it isn't the end of everything if one is rejected.”

From @CathrynGrant: “I tell myself it's a numbers game. The more I submit, the greater the odds. Yes, this does really help. So many different tastes in reading, & part of publishing is finding those with whom your words connect. At least it does for me. I work in a very analytical day job, so maybe that sets my brain on a different track.”

And from @Neil_ODonnell: “I take rejection as part of the game. Not everyone will like my writing -- just like I think some best sellers are poorly written.”

Option 3: Pretend It Doesn’t Matter. Take Out Frustrations On the World. Regroup. Try Again.

Sometimes, no matter how much we tell ourselves that the opinions of others don’t matter, our subconscious rears its ugly head and forces us to confront the fact that this is A LIE.

Super special thanks to the unflinchingly honest @_MorganIves for this insight. “I pick a fight with my husband. That can get pretty theatrical. I redirect my frustration into something completely unrelated. He left his socks out? Armageddon!

When asked to expound on Sock-Mageddon, she said:

"Here's an average rejection timeline for me:

7:00 AM - Check email, find rejection. Thoughts: "That's okay! I can totally deal with this! Moving on!"

7:10 AM - Eat breakfast. Thoughts: "No, really, I got this! I can totally deal!"

7:15 AM - Still eating breakfast. Thoughts: "What was wrong with it? Why didn't they like it?"

7:20 AM - Wash breakfast dishes. Thoughts: "What's wrong with me? Why don't they like me?"

7:30 AM - Start laundry. Thoughts: "Socks! Everywhere! Agh! How hard is it to put them in the basket?!"

7:35 AM - Stomp down to find husband. Rant about socks. He sits in stunned silence. Thoughts: "Ahhhhhh!!!!"

7:45 AM - Storm out the door to work. Thoughts: "&^%$ socks, *$@#! husband, !^%@$# agent/magazine/publisher!!"

5:30 PM - Slump home from work. Thoughts: "&^%^$@%^$! sigh"

5:45 PM - Curse about work. Husband hugs me from behind and asks, "What's really bothering you?" Dissolve into tears, share all self doubts and trauma. Husband shores up shaky confidence with assurances and compliments. Husband promises to pick up socks. Husband smiles when I laugh through tears.

6:22 PM - Grab new determination. Send to next market. Thoughts: "This, this is the one, I know it!"

Pretty much, it's always the same. I get a rejection, convince myself it is no big deal despite the blow to my ego, pretend I'm not worried, then blow up about little things all day. Finally, a husband or friend reassures me and gives me the pat on the back I need, and then I'm good to go. I'm so codependent ;)"

So there you have it: Three ways to deal with rejection. [Notice that NONE of them involved writing and sending snarky nasty attack letters to the one who rejected you. That is NOT on the accepted list of How Things Are Done.]

What works best for you? Is it on the list, or do you have another way of coping? Comment below and let the world know!


Anonymous said...

I love this line: "We wish you the best of luck in your search for an agent / publisher / meaning in life.”
Still laughing.

Amanda Bonilla said...

Great post! Rejection is tough, but you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and KEEP AT IT! Anything worth having is worth working hard for! :)

Unknown said...

Yep. The last one is me. Definitely. And the other two as well. I mix them, at the same time (I'm stellar at multitasking).

I'm also the kind that looks for hidden meanings in the form rejection (as if there are any!) and kills myself with them. Though, it's rather what's not said that gets me - like no referral, no helpful hints or personalized rejection etc.

RhondaL said...

Sock-mageddon! ::snork!::

When I get stuck, I'm also charming and easy-going (not!).

Simon Kewin said...

Fantastic post. Ah, that's my life! Glad I could contribute in some small way.

Ami Hendrickson said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I, personally, tend to be a hide-it-in-a-bottom-drawer kind of person when something garners a rejection. Which, I realize, is the equivalent of becoming a single, bitter spinster after one bad date.

Nevertheless, I have many spinster manuscripts. Have resolved to fortify myself with chocolate & put them out there. Repeatedly. And with great vigor...

~Need more chocolate~

Angela Perry said...

Hey Ami. Great post! I'm going to try one of the other two methods next time. My husband thanks you ;)

Anonymous said...

Ha! I love this post. I laugh somewhat hysterically as I'm in the middle of dealing with a rejection now.

Thanks for helping me to keep it in perspective.

Ami Hendrickson said...

vvdenman: We've all been there! Keep on keeping on! ;)