BioBooksAwardsComing NextContactBlogFun StuffHome

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Writing and Rejection

It was difficult to pick a topic this morning. There are two interesting discussions happening online that I'm itching to talk about, but I decided on this one since I think I can actually offer some helpful advice. Maybe. :-)

Writing and rejection seem to go hand in hand. It's such a subjective business. There isn't a writer out there that hasn't accumulated rejections. I remember my first conference--I was just investigating writing at that point--and Janet Evanovich was the speaker. Her topic? All the rejection letters she'd gotten. I think having this topic as my introduction to the world of writing was probably a good thing. Here was this published author (now a very successful published author) talking about all the rejection letters she'd racked up. Wow! So I knew from the outset that it wouldn't be easy.

And yet, when I received my first rejection letter, I gave up writing. I wasn't good enough, so what was the point? Keep in mind that I wasn't part of any writing chapter at that point and I didn't realize that I'd received the second best type of rejection note--one where the editor told me what I needed to work on.

For the non-writers or the new writers who haven't heard this before, there are three kinds of rejection letters.
  1. The form rejection. The worst kind to get because it tells you exactly nothing. I've gotten this too. On the book I wrote right before I sold. I mention this to underline again how subjective the business is. Looking at the story, I know it wasn't publishable as is. I also know that the writing, characters and story were strong enough to sell with revision. The editor didn't think so because she just sent a form letter. Subjective. I guarantee you, if I rewrote that book--and it wouldn't even take that much work--I could sell it. And maybe I will--some day. Right now I have too many other stories calling me much more strongly than that one. I tend to look at it as part of my learning experience for right now. But use this as Exhibit A for why you shouldn't let any rejection stop you.
  2. The personalized rejection. The editor will list in the letter what you need to work on. She (or he) has seen something in your writing and they're trying to help you. This should leave you excited. Look at what the editor felt needed work and then work on it. After I finish listing rejection types, I'll talk more about what I did after I got this kind of rejection.
  3. The detailed rejection. The editor will actually go through your manuscript and mark it up with suggestions and issues. Usually, this kind of rejection involves a invitation to resubmit after the revisions have been made. If it doesn't, contact the editor and ask if you can resubmit after you revise. Believe me, no editor goes to this much work if they don't really like your manuscript.
Okay, so I received rejection number two, decided I totally sucked, and gave up writing. For six months. I couldn't stand it any longer--not writing. Just because I wasn't putting the stories down on paper didn't mean that the characters had stopped talking to me. I asked myself the pivotal question: Would I stop writing even if I knew I'd never get published? The answer was no. Writing was part of me, my passion. So it was time to get over it and consider what the rejection letter said was my weakness.

What did the editor cite as my problem? Two dimensional characters. I went to the library and checked out every single book they had that touched on how writers create characters. I read each one of them, I made notes, and I put what I learned to use.

The next rejection letter I received was number 3 on the list, the best kind to get. The editor went through with Post-It notes and marked things up for me. Her insight was a huge, huge help, and while I never sold that book, I learned from what she said. I'll always be grateful that this editor took the time to do this because it improved my storytelling to a huge degree.

Was I this excited and thankful when I actually received the letter of rejection? Um, not exactly. At least by this time, I'd hooked up with other writers and realized I'd gotten a great rejection letter, but they still sting. I think this was the beginning of what I call my Twenty-Four Hour Rule. It's a simple one. No matter how horrible the news I receive is, I only allow myself 24 hours to wallow. I honor the emotion, allow myself to feel it, and then when the 24 hours are up, I have to start getting over it. No exceptions.

I highly recommend the 24 hour rule and it applies to everything, not just writing. No, sometimes it isn't easy to put it behind you and move on, I know, but do it anyway.

I've had a lot of practice putting the 24 hour rule to use. Rejections don't stop once you get published. In fact, I've accumulated a lot more rejections since I sold than I ever have while I was unpublished and I get a lot less information now--or so it seems. Bad reviews? The 24 hour rule. Mean-spirited comments? The 24 hour rule.

Too many talented writers have given up on themselves too soon because they've received rejections. I'm a big believer in Never Give Up. How badly do you want to write? How badly do you want to share your stories with others? That's the question. What's your answer?

MN Weather Report: 48 degrees.