In the perfect world we would write the perfect story, the perfect work of fiction and…boom. Editors would fight over who gets first or second rights. But is that really a perfect world or just our ego rearing its humongous bald head?
For most of my life teachers, parents, etc. told me that wrote well. Praise like that tends to both build your confidence and inflate your ego. In reality I had some kind of gift but in the context of a classroom full of kids who would rather undergo a tonsillectomy than write anything that is not saying much.
Yes, I had a talent. It was not until I begin submitting my work that I realized it was not rare. Why editors didn’t absolutely fawn over my work was a mystery. It would take a minute for me to get it: they see tens of thousands of manuscripts each year, many from folks whose egos were as inflated as mine, and whose talents were even bigger. This was not third-grade general Ed. There was nothing general about this group.
There were plenty of rejection letters. When I finally got the offer letter for my novel I cried. I had made it. But it was all those rejections that taught me more than anything. Let me share a few of the things I’ve learned.
Giving Up is Not an Option
The rapper and hip-hop mogul Jay-Z said: Excellence is performing at a high level consistently. He goes on to say that anyone can have that hot record or be hot for a little while. But a person of excellence is performing at a high level consistently. When rejections keep coming and you keep tweaking, changing, searching for ways to make it better, your energy and processing are at their highest. You’re pushing yourself despite the urge to quit. To consistently override thoughts of disappointment and fear and hurt and push past it and towards something you know is there but do not see is a form of excellence. When I watch marathon runners I wonder at which point their bodies say enough this is where we stop. But their will urges them on. Their resolve is strengthened. And again I imagine, at some point their bodies began to scream, but their will pushes them further and closer; override, override, until they are operating in sheer will. A rejection is just a reminder to keep pushing, you haven’t gotten there. But you will not be at rest.
Reexamines and Check the Ego
Reexamine. I began writing my novel in 2007. Spending that much time with yourself either does one of two things: gives you an inflated sense of connectedness with your own work or causes you to detest it. After a while you began to fall in love with it, sometimes in an unhealthy way. Imagine: your two-year old’s farts are brutal and the family thinks this is disgustingly hilarious; such an awful smell to come out of such a tiny, cute body. What could be funnier? You’re doubled over with laughter. And then he does it in church and the old lady sitting next to you erupts in a fit of gagging and has to be escorted out. Hmmm…not so cute anymore.
When our ‘baby’ is taken out in public others may have a different perspective. This helps us to constantly grow, reexamine our work, take out our little darlings and replace them with moving dialogue or exposition. It helps us to not fall in love with any piece of work, because most of it should be expendable if it is not working towards making our story stronger.
Confirms our status as a professional
People who only hope to one day write or who believe writing is kinda cool don’t have to worry about rejection letters—form or otherwise. Their dreams keep them in a perpetual state of hopefulness. They are the ones who always encourage you. And you really want to slap them sometimes but decide against it. When you have a dog in the fight you get tired and discouraged and sometimes you are sure editors just don’t get it. But this simply means we are working, not sitting or wondering what it feels like to write, but working and getting our hands dirty. We feel defeat and sometimes, have to encourage ourselves hourly. But I’m finding that’s O.K. As long as we are in the running, the chances of us winning are very likely.