Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Learning from the Stuff that Hurts

Today I want to talk about rejection.

The bad news is that rejection comes in all forms, in all parts of life.

When you’re in first grade, and you’re the only kid in the class that Susie (who you thought was your best friend!) doesn’t invite to her party.

When you’re ten, and your older brother won’t let you play street hockey with him and his friends.

Rejection feels like this sometimes.
When you’re a teen, and that guy or girl you like doesn’t know you exist, or worse, they DO know you exist and they scorn your interest.

When you’re in college, and your classmate gives you only dismissive comments during the “peer review” of a short story that you slaved over, and you are struck with how subjective this writing business can be sometimes.

THEN you grow up and decide to be a writer. Rejection, that’s just kids’ stuff, right? You grow up and start being accepted, right?

Unfortunately, no. The minefield of rejection just gets bigger and wider as a writer, no matter what path to publication you choose.

If you decide to go traditional, there are crit groups and betas and then queries and agents and maybe, if you’re really lucky/talented/persistent or maybe all three, editors and then eventually readers and reviewers and other authors. And a lot of these people are going to reject your work, and it will probably feel like they’re rejecting you.

Some of them will do it for professional, no-hard-feelings reasons. Some of them will do it graciously. Some of them will do it without thinking. Some of them will do it for callused or stupid or totally subjective reasons.

Rejection feels like this sometimes.
Now let’s say you go indie. In some ways you think the rejection might not be as bad (no queries, right?) and in some ways, you slowly (and with a sinking heart) realize, it might be worse.

Other writers might turn up their nose at your choices or think you’re lesser because you don’t have a lucrative book deal or a Big Six publisher or heck, a publisher at all. 

Book bloggers might refuse to work with you because self published books are too unreliable or they don’t want to be a “slushpile reader,” and some family or friends might not be quite able to hide the disappointed expression that flits across their face when you explain that your book didn’t find a publisher—you decided to grab life by the horns and publish it yourself. You might feel the sting of these slights and prejudices keenly. 

And then there will be your readers and reviewers and peers. Your critics and commentators and everyone who is watching you and judging your success by your Amazon rank or your Twitter following.

It’s gonna be rejection city, my friend.

But don’t give up. Please don’t give up. The good news … is there good news?

I really hope so!

First, not all rejection is personal. Not everybody will like your stuff—and that’s okay. Human beings are wonderfully varied and different. Some people love Twilight and some people love Flannery O’Connor, and some people love both Twilight and Flannery O’Connor.   

Some people will adore your work and gush about it to all their friends. And some people won’t give a crap about the books that you bathed with your blood, sweat, and tears. Or worse, they may be purposely malicious and mean about how they didn't like it—and that attitude may baffle you, it may hurt you, it may wound you deeply.
Not everyone will do this.

But learn to let it go, because there’s something you’ve got to understand. Everybody is different. That’s the way human beings are. There is a kaleidoscope of interests, tastes, and yearnings out there. There’s an incredible scope of perspectives, desires, and preferences.We need to respect that fact that some people love what other people hate.

Now, not everybody will be gracious about these differences of opinion. Some people will probably spew their disdain for your type of work all over the internet, for instance, by making blogs that mock your genre or rip the work of certain authors to shreds like sharks at a chum-fest (yep, seen it!) or writing a blog post about how book covers like yours are childish, embarrassing, or vapid (yep, seen it!) or claiming that your style of book is ruining society/publishing/young minds (yep ... seen it).

But you can be gracious, and if you are, that’s one less person being hateful.

And I think that’s something to strive for, don’t you?

Second, I believe that all the rejection is making me/you/us stronger. Every cut hurts, but we heal. When a stranger, a peer, or even a friend wounds you, take some time to process it. You will probably cry, or rage, or swear at your laptop. (I suggest shoveling mulch, actually.) You might take a walk or eat pancakes smothered in syrup and whipped cream. 

You will feel a tiny bit better. And then … 

Let it go. Please, let it go. Because there’s so much to do and be in this world, and if you hold onto the hurt and let it smolder inside you like a festering sore then you aren’t going to heal.

And finally, the good news …

The good news is, when you learn to accept the rejection and let it go and heal when it hurts, you’re going to get stronger. And better. And maybe even more gracious, because you’ve learned how much it hurts to be the recipient of a thoughtless fellow writer or a dismissive crit group or someone who has no time for a struggling peer or a reviewer who could only cared to list, in gory detail, every single thing he or she thought was ridiculous, absurd, and wrong with your precious book, complete with insults to your intelligence as the author.

So maybe you won’t be that person, because you know what it’s like. Maybe I won't do it either.
Now, I'm very sensitive, so maybe I get hit a bit harder by this than some. But I feel like lately the abuse has just been piling on. I wish I could forget a lot of the things spoken to my face over just the PAST MONTH (“I know you fancy yourself a writer, but…” from a friend, no less, “Fantasy books are going to be the death of literature” from another writer who writes literary fiction... 

And there were more instances than those.

Rejection and other hurtful occurrences are unavoidable.

But not everybody does it on purpose, or to be mean, or to be cruel.  But even when people are cruel on purpose … it’s an important lesson.

I can't stop everyone from being critical or cruel or thoughtless.

So I really hope I can learn from it.


  1. Wonderful post.

    Love your profile picture.

    Speaking of being Team Unicorn, you should check out "The Last Unicorn" graphic novel.

  2. (And if you want to read it but don't want to buy it, I can mail it to you -- provided you mail it back. :) )

  3. I have heard GREAT things about that book--there's a graphic novel too?

    I'll definitely check it out. Maybe my library has it? I'll let you know ...

  4. Oh, and thank you about the pic! My mom took it, lol. I think it turned out well. Maybe someday I'll get some kind of professional photo shoot together with my brother or something.

  5. Hahaha, those pictures are awesome!

    I have been told that I am somewhat Vulcan like in my immunity to criticism, but even people with thick skin can get their feelings hurt.

    Generally when people are critical I get angry enough that I don't care. Apathy on the other hand is more painful as there is no shield of anger to protect me.

  6. yeah... i'm a rejection chicken! i try to remember that it will only benefit me, and i've only had one really bad rejection experience with my writing... but the fear of just how MUCH is ahead... yikes. daunting!
    and the thing about self-pubbing that a lot of people not following the industry don't realize, is that it is quite possibly the wave of the future, and you seem to be going at it with a level head! best of luck to you!
    and while your photo is lovely (jiminey! you're gorgeous!) i was quite dissappointed to learn you aren't really a stick figure with a purple bow on your bald head. :(

  7. Vic: Thanks for your kind words! I am excited about what I'll discover with the self-pub, and yeah, it's a bit like the wild west. We might discover gold :-)

    While it's true I'm not really a stick figure OR bald, I may invest in a big, floppy, purple bow. I do love the bow.


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