Sweet Mother of the Internet, what happened to May? Swallowed in a vortex of Everything Else Going On, I’m sure, but I find it startling when whole months just disappear on me. But since it is a new month, and it’s Wednesday, that means it’s time to check in with Ninja Captain Alex and this month’s co-hosts C. Lee McKenzie, Tracy Jo, Melanie Schulz, and LG Keltner!
That’s right, it’s time for another Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
I’m feeling a little up right now, so I’m going to pass it along. This is probably going to sound like one of those afterschool specials about becoming who you are, and learning to ignore peer pressure. I just want everyone to know that I’m not always so upbeat. I’m not always so optimistic in the face of rejection, but today, I have some wisdom for you.
My very favorite fencing coach loved to quote Conan, Bruce Lee movies, and Monty Python. During class, he would ask one of the n00bs “How many lunges does it take to get it right?”
They would guess some crazy number around a thousand (it sounds round and the thought of doing ten thousand lunges when your thighs are screaming at you hurts too much to admit). He’d say “wrong!” then turn to one of the students indoctrinated in long nights of watching B movies on HBO and ask, “How many lunges does it take?”
“All of them, Maestro.”
Rejections are sort of like that. The idea behind “all the lunges” is that your body will be sculpted by each and every lunge, hopefully manifesting in a perfectly—or at least effectively—executed lunge in the heat of battle. Which is to say, each lunge brought you part of the way to where you are, incrementally closer to your goal. Rejections are like that too.
I came to a realization many years ago that a particular project I had wasn’t ready. I’d been querying the project. I LOVED the project, still do—in fact it’s next up on my edit list, long story, and I don’t mean word count—but in its early incarnation, it wasn’t ready. That wasn’t something I was able to see at the time.
For obvious reasons, that project got a lot of rejections. Those rejections helped me see my manuscript from someone else’s point of view. I grew.
Then I sent out more work, and I got more rejections. Many more rejections, but this one was different. I could feel the difference in the way I was being rejected, and more, after a little time away from it, I could feel how stilted and jumbled the manuscript was. (I also love that story, and may someday redo it in a way to make it publishable—I miss my motorcycle racing gryphons *sigh*).
I moved on to another book (sweet mother of science, there really is a trail of literary bodies in my wake!), and the rejections had changed again. These rejections made things sound fixable.
I’d abandoned projects before because I wasn’t sure what would make them better. I’d tried everything I knew how to do, and still they were flawed, somehow stuck in that place that lacked high concept AND compelling writing. Then my rejections moved to “I like this but…” That was a major breakthrough. I took the manuscript out and edited, revised, edited some more (you’ve heard how my process lacks those qualities of efficiency, yeah, this was like that).
That is to say, it took rejections—lots and lots of rejections—to put myself into a position to look at my manuscript with a more honed and professional eye. Sure, it still wasn’t the MS creating fans like the twihards, but all things in time (no, I'm not dreaming of that kind of fame, that's crazy with a capital K). And with each rejection, I gained something. Dare I say, I grew from them?
At that moment, I realized, I’d became a better writer because someone said no to me.
When I was working on that first project, I cried a lot. I felt like I’d read a lot of really bad books that had been published. I felt like mine was “good enough.” I constantly said “If only someone would take a chance on my book and read it, they’d fall in love.” Or “My book is better than that published book by five-books-a-year Bestselling author.”All signs of beginner's angst.
But when no one said yes, I had to take a serious look at why. It wasn’t because I had enemies in the business. It wasn’t because people were judging me on my looks (at first I was very careful to not have pictures of me on the internet because of my work). So if they didn’t know me, and they weren’t just saying no cause I was, you know, fat (my default reason for most rejection in my life up untill that point) then why were they saying no?
Oh, right. They were saying no because the writing wasn’t that good.
So I dug deep, figured out some things and soldiered on.
Later when the rejections kept coming, I looked for other things in my craft: awkward writing, better word choice, the eradication of Just, Little, Pretty, and That. And each No drove me forward like my fencing coach yelling “Another!”. (Now I imagine him throwing a coffee cup to the ground a la Thor, but we never fenced on Thor’s days).
I’m not going to lie, rejection hurts, and even when it’s making you better, it still feels like you’re asymptotically* approaching your dreams. Even though it hurts, and even though it sucks to see a big field of no (especially when all around, you see the sea of yeses from people landing agents and book deals—or bypassing the whole system for selfpub and or kickstarter) rejections are a healthy part of the system.
A: if it were easy, everyone would do it.
B: If it were easy for you, you wouldn’t grow.
C: Okay, well, I don’t have a third piece of evidence because they hurt, and they suck, and I’ve cried over rejections, and not that pretty movie cry. Nope, that’s not my speed, deep ugly I can’t breathe crying, that's for me. But rejections change you. They mold you into the writer you will become. That’s usually better than the writer you are today. Go get some rejections! Wait, that didn't sound right. I suck at pep talks today.
And if this just makes you want to throw things at your computer, I get that feeling, too. Just remember that a shotgun to the screen, while beautiful to imagine, is actually quite messy (just imagine how I know that).
*An asymptote is a curve that approaches a particular line, but Never. Quite. Touches it. So yeah, sorry, math metaphors. It’s usually not contagious until I’m making vector jokes, but quite frankly, I'm all out of direction.