Writing life: On dealing with rejection part 1

“Your success is directly proportional to your ability to handle rejection,” (from the panel at the SCBWI Conference, NY 2012).

Writing is not easy. Or always fun. It is not all sunshine and rainbows and instant bestsellers. There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears that goes into it. Sometimes those injuries come from a paper cut on your tongue or under your thumb nail. Sometimes you drop a dictionary on you bare foot. Sometimes you get your heart broken.

When I dreamed of writing as a viable career choice as a teen (and then as an adult), I never considered rejection. Perhaps it was false confidence or my naivetĂ©, but it never crossed my mind that someone wouldn’t like my writing style or my voice. I’d always assumed I was good.

Everyone told me so and I believed them.

That is until I went to college.

I took a number of creative writing classes in college (I was an English major after all). During my junior year I took a short story class and poured my heart and soul into my first piece of YA lit.

My teacher hated it.

I don’t mean that he just didn’t like it. He called it trite and told me I was wasting my time (and his).

I wrote another short story, a funny chick lit piece (it was the early ’00’s. Chick lit was huge). He nearly exploded with hatred. The rest of the class thought it was okay, but my teacher, who had published a book of Serious Short Stories, took me aside and suggested that I try something else because to be honest, “you’ll never make it as a writer.”

I cried after that and cursed him. But I didn’t stop writing. The following year I took another short story class with a different teacher. He praised my work. He called me “deadpan on wry” and encouraged me to keep it up. Later that year my first short story was published in the school’s literary journal. I also took a memoir class and wrote the start of a memoir. That teacher read THE ENTIRE THING aloud to the class. He didn’t read anything else aloud.

I was on the right track.

A few years later, after library school, I took a short fiction class held at a community college. It was fun and I started to figure out my voice. I wrote a ton of short stories and tried to shop some of them around. They all got rejected and I stashed them away.

I didn’t write fiction for over four years. I spent that time writing a cooking blog, and doing community journalism, and travel writing, and book reviews.

Then one Nanowrimo (2009) I wrote a novel. It was a crappy romance novel, but I completed it. Then I wrote a YA novel. Then another. And another. And started another. I was hooked.

I tried to shop my first one around but it was too quiet and probably too autobiographical. I got nothing but rejection letter after rejection letter. Some were nice, but most were blunt. I cried a little bit.

I’ve since shopped other manuscripts around. There were a lot of close calls, and to be honest, those rejections really stung. Thinking I was thisclose and then finding out I wasn’t was hard to swallow. There were more tears.

Then I came across Florence and The Machine’s song “Shake it Out” and it spoke volumes to me. There was no point in dwelling on the rejections because someone would eventually say yes. This business is subjective and hard to break into, but it shouldn’t stop you from trying your damnedest to get your foot in the door.

The key is to keep writing. Take a break if you need to, but in my experience you’ll wish you had kept writing. stomach hurts when I think of those lost four years of writing fiction. And when a rejection or bad review or snarky comment has you feeling down, there’s only one thing to do: blast a song from my rejection playlist and dance it out.

You’ll feel better. Trust me.

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