Wednesday, March 6, 2013

IWSG: There is no thick skin



Here is my monthly contribution to The Insecure Writer’s Support Group. If you haven’t heard of this yet, be sure to check out the NinjaCaptain, hop on the Linky, and go say hi to the Co-hosts Misha  and Joylene.

This month, I have a confession. Most of you already know that I spent a ton of time working on a story that wasn’t exactly the book of my heart. I enjoyed the story. It was fun, it was—well, lighthearted isn’t the word for it—not as intense from an emotional stand point.

I should preface with: it was a NOVEL. I wrote the bloody thing, poured my heart and soul into it (like you do with all novels). I worked; I revised; I rewrote, and I rerevised. In short, I didn’t give that novel a half attempt. I Worked. Hard. I polished it up and got it all spiffy and clean.

Still, it was not the novel of my heart. Not even close. In fact, I sort of felt like it was a bit of a throw away project because of some feedback I’d gotten from agents. So, expectations low, I sent that novel out to go collect me some rejections. It would be practice, I told myself. Everyone needs practice. It would help me develop a thick skin.

I didn’t query widely, in fact, it sort of went to the usual suspects as far as agents go. I was pleased that it got a number of partial requests (that was much better than I’d expected frankly). Mostly it got form rejection and silence.

In the mean time, I did what you’re supposed to do: I moved on. I had just finished a first draft, and while that stewed, I wrote another first draft. Then I went back and started working on the previous first draft. I fell absolutely in love with that book all over again. I mean head over heels, laughing out loud at my own work (I’m such a dork!) in love. Rapturous love. I want to grab people on the sidewalk and shake them until they go read my book (I should probably come up with a better market strategy).

Then something happened that I didn’t expect: I got a rejection letter for the practice novel. Not just any rejection letter: the last. The last rejection letter for the practice book.

I bawled.

I hadn’t cried at a rejection letter in over a year, and I cried.

Not because I was weeping for the practice novel, oh no. That novel I’d already called it quits on twice. No, I was crying because the book I love is now my query bait. This book could break my heart. I kid you not, this book is me laid bare (why yes, I do fight space pirates in my spare time, why do you ask?). There are moments in that book that are so raw for me that I had to put it away because just the idea of it getting a rejection sends me into fits of chocolate.

In short, despite practicing, I have no skin at all, thick or otherwise. The notion of having a thick skin has always been false. No one can. The only things you can do are learn how to deal with it better, or fall into apathy.

I’ll admit, I was pretty apathetic with the practice novel. It was an easy place to be. The novel was born out of a joke. Yes it was great fun to write, and the story was awesome, but It wasn’t something near and dear to my heart. It cost me nothing to query it. Nothing. There was nothing important to me in that book. Good story, lots of fun, but I didn’t feel naked for having it out there.

This new book is different. It costs me something very deep to let people read it, and at the same time, I’m aching to just print off copies and go sell it on the street corner because I think the rest of the world will love it as much as I do (no, I don’t really think that; I know that there are plenty of people who won’t love it).

So yeah, thick skin? I think you only get that with numbness or apathy, and I don’t think good stories come from either of those places. So if you’re in the query trenches, and you’re wondering why rejections still hurt and sting, just remember, that’s a sign that you’re doing it right. Have some chocolate and take a deep breath. 

Good luck in the trenches. I’ll be joining you soon.

19 comments:

  1. There is thick skin and then there are scabs. I think scabs are preferable since they're proof of one's willingness to take risks despite their vulnerability. And if they leave a scar, we can wear it like a badge of courage.

    All the best to you.

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    1. Thanks Jeff, and you're absolutely right, scars are badges of courage. I'm sporting a few already, but there's definitely room for more. Thanks for stopping by.

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  2. I know exactly what you mean. I've seriously done the same thing, which is the reason why I'm taking my novel that's close to my heart and pitching it live before I do anything else. That way I can see someone's face and they can know how much it means to me. That way I can walk out of the room and know that even if I'm rejected, I still stood up for it. If I can do it, you can too. Sometimes we need to bleed a little before we can heal. :)

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    1. I think it was the shock that this book I love is going to receive form rejections. Even if it lands an agent and is covered in publishing love, there are plenty of people who are going to respond to it with "Nope, better luck next time."

      So in trying to stave off the crazies, I've shown my hand as being full of the crazies...

      p.s. Good luck pitching live. How terrifying and exhilarating!

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  3. I've got my fingers crossed for you, and sending loads of good wishes your way. I actually think my skin is quite thick, but I do write a lot about death... I wonder if that's connected in any way?

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    1. Thank you. And I think I'm just in the process of coming to terms with what querying this book could mean, at least the bad side. The good side is always provided in my delusions of adequacy.

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  4. I don't entirely agree. Thick skin comes from learning from your mistakes, learning what you don't know, and applying that knowledge to make your product the best it can be. Thick skin comes from putting yourself out there time after time and improving after each and every one. It comes from the confidence of knowing you're getting better, and closer, and that someone out there will finally see that. It also comes from knowing that you will never be able to make everyone happy. Books are way to subjective. I have mostly awesome 5-star reviews. But I also have tiny collection of 1 and 2-stars. That's what keeps me humble and knowing I can't please everyone, even while I strive to do so.

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    1. I think that the improving time after time isn't really a thickening of the skin so much as a conditioning. You find ways to cope (one of them is confidence, after all). I think what I made a real hash out of trying to say is that when you lay your heart out there for the world to see, no matter how many 5 star reviews come your way, those 1 and 2 star reviews sting.

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  5. Great post, Rena!

    It sounds like your blood and guts went into that last story. I'm glad you're tossing it out there for query bait! If not, we all might be cheated out of a really great story. With as much passion as you have in the particular project, I don't think there's any way you'll fail, unless you give up, which I know you won't.

    I'm like you, I can say I have thick skin, but that's just a lie to make people tell me the truth. I think rejection hurts because we put our all into making our stories great, and it's frustrating when our best isn't good enough for the market.

    Prayers going up for you! I believe you'll make it! :)

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    1. Thanks Celeste! I pretend to have thick skin pretty well, but really I'm just faking it. I guess that's a whole different skin, the being able to suck it up and get the good information out of a crit while you're trying not to bleed from the arrow to the knee (I used to be a novelist like you, and then I took an arrow to the knee...).

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  6. Oh geez, this makes me tear up... and want to get back to writing...

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  7. I loved this post. I knew there was a reason I never liked when people told me I needed thick skin. I much prefer the idea that we learn how to cope. People keep telling me to write another book and query that one, but the one I have now. I LOVE IT. There's no writing another book (well, there is, but you know what I mean). There's me working with this one for now cause it's what I love.

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  8. Good luck in the trenches, indeed! And you're right - the best books really make us take away the thick skin. But it'll be worth it so lay it all out there and just hold on for the ride :)

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  9. Great post. I'm querying my darling right now, and was wondering why I was still getting so upset by rejections... shouldn't I be tough by now?? The good news is, I was crippled by the first rejection, but not so crippled with the next, then the next... you're right about learning to cope, but it stings bad to have your darling rejected. I hear ya.

    Best of luck as you work on your query and then send it off... be brave!

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  10. If it is any condolence, you convey your emotions very strongly in this blog and I love it.

    Onwards and upwards,
    heads held high,
    many another shall live,
    rather than let love die.

    A poem, which sprung spontaneously from a sentence, just for this occasion in time.

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  11. Rena, if you've got passion for this project, than all the more reason to put it out there. I hate the rejections too. It almost feels worse to get a rejection after a full request I think than a form rejection because you invested more hope in it.

    But honestly, your gut can't be wrong. If you feel that strongly about it, there has to be an agent or editor out there who will see that passion in the story too. Good luck!

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  12. Thank you for sharing this!
    I don't think I'll ever take rejection lightly, for the same reasons you can't. My stories are my heart out there for the world to see. It will hurt when they stomp on it.
    But, I can't help what I write. I just hope I never feel that I want to stop!

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  13. I've queried a book of my heart, and it is hard. But i promise writing something new while you're querying it will help take some of the pain off any rejections. PROMISE

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  14. As soon as you get to the point where rejection stops hurting, then you're probably finished as a writer. Use those rejection slips to drive you to make each book even better.

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