Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rejection: Take Your Licks and Move On

You need a thick skin if you're going to be a writer. There's no way around it. If you plan on finding any sort of success with writing—with anything you're truly passionate about, really—be prepared to be rejected dozens, if not hundreds, of times. But it's okay. Have no fear, dear readers. Think of rejection as a rite of passage that confirms two things: you are a part of the human race; and you are participating. That second acknowledgment is an important one. Participation is key: You have to be willing to play if you want to win. I know that sounds terribly cliché (because it is), but it's true.

Don't get ahead of yourself, though. I know what you're thinking. Hands on your hips, chest pushed out, full of all the youthful exuberance of a new writer, you want to scream to the writing gods: I'm not afraid of you! Bring it on, muchacho! I'll play your damn game! 

Whoa. All right. I like your enthusiasm but slow down, partner, participation comes at a cost, you innocent sweet foolish child. Do not forget that if you are prepared to walk onto the same field that the professionals play on, then you are an eligible player and fair game for full contact hits. Sorry, them's the terms. And sometimes those hits will hurt, and probably make you want to quit and limp off the field, helmet in hand and tail between your legs. You won't, though, right? Promise me you won't. Try to remember that in writing, much like in life, it's all about stepping outside your comfort zone. That's where all important growth occurs, after all.

Now, if you're willing to accept the consequences that come with playing with the big dogs, go ahead and call yourself a writer. Go ahead. Really. No one will judge you. You've always wanted to, anyway, so do it. You’re starting where most of the pros did, navigating the same obstacles, and experiencing the same heartbreak they all did when they were cutting their teeth. So why not measure yourself accordingly? You've earned it merely by agreeing to participate. Even if you have never made a dime with your writing, if you are in the game, go ahead and call yourself a writer. Deal? Okay, good.

The willingness to throw yourself into the ring, outmatched, outweighed, and still wet behind the ears, to put up your dukes and give it your best when the odds are stacked against you, is a crucial first step in every writer's—every human's—journey. And I know you'll go out there hungry, full of piss and vinegar, ready take on the world, but chances are the first few bouts will not go to you, the underdog—the writing industry is a tough, skilled opponent that has seen all your tricks before (it's also an industry filled with fierce competition)—but hey, at least you're fighting, right? And if you're willing to fight, to get back up when you get knocked down, you stand a chance. That's all you can ask for—a chance. You just need to learn how to take a hit and continue forward unshaken, until an opportunity presents itself and you get to land a few punches of your own. Tired of the sports metaphors? Me too. I'll rein it in.

Being rejected stings any way you look at it, but the wounds are superficial and non-life-threatening, I promise. They are like small paper cuts inflicted upon the ego: They will make you wince, but in the end there's hardly any blood, and they heal fast. There are probably close to one hundred rejections—each one a layer of the callous every writer eventually forms over the years—saved in my email folder, and I'm still here and still writing. Nothing will ever change that. You know why? Because I am a writer. That's what I was built to do. Any professional will be quick, if not proud, to reveal that somewhere in their writing space is a collection of rejection letters. They are like battle scars that tell the story of a hard journey, and in some future time you will have your own collection of battle scars to look at and a tale of a hard, but worthwhile, journey to revel in.

So, how does one deal with the temporary hurt of being rejected? I offer the mindset I have always used to cope with any unavoidable, difficult reality that one must face repeatedly: It never gets easier, you only get used to it. And I firmly believe this. You will never open an email or a letter from an editor and read the dreaded words "not a good fit" or "not what I'm looking for at the moment" and be filled with anything other than a bitter twinge of disappointment. The important part is that you allow yourself a moment to grieve. Feel the emotion, don't fight it. Let it flow through you. Then, after a few beers and few moments of self-loathing, put it behind you and move on. Set your sights on the next one. And there will be many more "next ones.”

For a great article about the manuscript submission process and dealing with rejection, click here

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