Writing is a great way to become very comfortable with rejection. I’ve received so many rejection letters they barely even sting anymore. I’ve made word art out of them. When I get one, I immediately send out a new query, which cheers me up. I feel grateful that they bothered to answer at all, when often they don’t.
But I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t get to me sometimes. When I get a rejection that’s specific, I try to remind myself it’s a good thing because it means they thought I was worth more than a form letter. But of course “no” is easier to take than “no because . . .” The reasons always sting. The worst is “your heroine/voice isn’t relatable,” because deep down I suspect it’s me, as a person, they dislike. Oh you don’t like brainy heroines who don’t emote much and angst a lot? Guess I should just crawl into a hole and die, because that’s what I’m like.
And Twitter can be an awful place when you’re feeling a little fragile from the rejection. When you’re in a good mood and believing in yourself, seeing other people’s success stories encourages you. They succeeded, I could too! But on a bad day, yikes. It’s just people who aren’t me getting book deals right and left! To make it extra bad, they can point out that it’s their second novel or that they’d gotten fifty rejections first.
When I was in the fifth grade, I switched to a new school, a private Catholic school with uniforms. Of course I didn’t know, when uniform shopping, the right kind of uniform to buy so I was already uncool on day one with my Peter Pan collar and oxford shoes. But we had a free dress day at one point and I thought it was finally time to redeem myself, sartorially speaking. I wore a pink dress with puffy sleeves, which I thought was cool because apparently I knew nothing about what fifth graders wear.
I was hanging out before class, feeling good about how I looked, when I heard two girls behind me talking about their clothes.
“Oh, thank you! It’s new!”
“I like the spaghetti straps.”
“Well at least it’s not cupcake sleeves like SOME people wear.”
I don’t know if they were being passive-aggressive or just not aware of me at all, but I pretty much wanted to die. The worst part being that I had to keep wearing that dress all day, wondering all the while which of my classmates thought the sleeves were ridiculous. Maybe all of them.
Anyway that’s how PitchWars made me feel when it ended. Nobody said one bad thing about my submission, not at all. I had two different nice things said to me about it, in fact. But hearing people compliment each other in front of me just reminds me of that awful time in fifth grade. “I am so excited to mentor this Indian-inspired lush fantasy with a trans heroine!” sounds in my ears like “boy do I hate all these hard scifi novels by bi white women, I detest white bi women from Catholic backgrounds and science fiction makes me vom.”
It sure sounds dumb when I write it all out, doesn’t it? I know this is stupid and nobody hates me, and they especially don’t hate me when they’re complimenting other people. Because it has nothing whatsoever to do with me.
Let’s have another traumatic rejection memory.
When I was in boarding school, we weren’t allowed to have cliques or, in fact, friends. We were supposed to all like each other equally. But I could tell that some people were more popular or valuable than others. Some people got picked for important jobs and some people got left on pots and pans. On the bus going places, we often sang songs (to avoid the cliqueyness of talking to the person next to you; talking in groups of two wasn’t allowed) and when we’d sung all the songs we knew, people would do solos. You got to do a solo because everyone shouted your name and begged you to do one.
I’m sure you can predict that I never got to do a solo, not once, even though I was in the choir and loved to sing. And that I was super upset by it. It just seems a very unfair system, where the only way to get social approval is for people to notice you, but any means by which you can tip them off that you want it is forbidden. Which is kind of girl life in general. You can’t be desperate for attention, but in fact everyone would like attention. You just can’t look like you want it. You have to have the kind of magnetic personality that gets it without trying.
As an adult, I don’t really have these issues. I don’t need to impress everyone anymore; I have a select group of friends who already like me and it’s small enough I’m never overlooked or accidentally insulted. But writing brings it all back, because you need to be noticed or nobody will ever publish or read your book. So it’s back to the dance of try-to-get-noticed, try-not-to-care-too-much. It’s hard and I think it can be hard to admit just how much it hurts.
Anyway, it took me almost a month to write this post because I threw myself into NaNoWriMo because when you fall off the horse, you have to get back on so it knows who’s boss.
But I’m sure I’m not the only one having a tough time. Later this week is PitMad, whereupon some truly amazing pitches will get zero likes and everybody piles on the same ten pitches which get fifty each. The old pain will be back for a lot of us and we’re pretty much going to have to endure it. There are things I could say to dismiss it, but I don’t think that’s right. No sour-grapes attitude will make it stop hurting. We just have to let the pain pass over and through. Find those one or two friends who notice and like us, and remember that the writing world is only one world we live in. That our characters are alive on the page and loved by us regardless of what influential stranger didn’t notice them.
I know I’m not going to earn my book deal through the sheer cussedness of getting rejected enough times. But I also know I’m not getting published without that. So I write, I edit, I edit again, and I open myself up for rejection again. Because for me, it’s still worth it.