Rejection to a writer is like blood to a surgeon

It’s a normal, if messy, part of every working day. Every single person who hopes to earn a living as a writer needs to memorize it.

Courage is a muscle: use it or lose it.

If you never show/try to sell your work, how can you determine its wider appeal?

Yes, you will almost certainly be rejected. Possibly many times. Assume so!

Surely by now you’ve all heard how many times billionaire author J.K. Rowling was rejected when she first sent out “Harry Potter”?

Writer's Stop
Writer’s Stop (Photo credit: Stephh922)

Here’s a list of 11 others who had their butts kicked hard before they became best-sellers.

And here’s a great post of 25 things writers need to know about it from writer Chuck Wendig’s blog on the same subject:

2. Penmonkey Darwinism In Action

Rejection has value. It teaches us when our work or our skillset is not good enough and must be made better…Rejection refines us. Those who fall prey to its enervating soul-sucking tentacles are doomed. Those who persist past it are survivors. Best ask yourself the question: what kind of writer are you? The kind who survives? Or the kind who gets asphyxiated by the tentacles of woe?

3. This, Then, Is The Value Of The Gatekeeper

Hate the autocracy of the kept gates all you like, but the forge of rejection purifies us (provided it doesn’t burn us down to a fluffy pile of cinder). The writer learns so much from rejection about himself, his work, the market, the business. Even authors who choose to self-publish should, from time to time, submit themselves to the scraping talons and biting beaks of the raptors of rejection. Writers who have never experienced rejection are no different than children who get awards for everything they do: they have already found themselves tap-dancing at the top of the “I’m-So-Special” mountain, never having to climb through snow and karate chop leopards to get there.

I’ve added the bold and italics here…

Writer's Block 1
Writer’s Block 1 (Photo credit: OkayCityNate)

So, my question to all of you is why you are so damn scared of being rejected? A few theories.

Because having your work rejected seems, for some of you, to really mean:

I  have no talent

Entirely possible. OMG. Did she just say that! Yes, I did. Because, despite what your friends and sweetie and Mom have told you your whole life, maybe you are really just not very good at the thing you are absolutely determined you must be good at. (Or what? Or what? Then what happens?) Stop being a Special Snowflake, already!

I’m such a loser!

Maybe. Maybe not. If you are ever going to survive being a writer you must do this: find a way to separate you from your work. You are not your work. (Here’s a truly disgusting analogy: we all use the toilet and most of us excrete waste every day. It is a product of our bodies. But we do realize that it is not us.) In other words, being rejected may make you feel like shit. You, however, are not shit!

I just wasted all that $$$$$$$$$ on getting my MFA

Can’t help you with that one. I’ve avoided any formal post-graduate education because I’m too damn cheap. If you want to spend a ton of money developing your skills, great. But if you’re looking for serious financial ROI on an MFA, I’d say you’re a little out of touch with the marketplace.

The competition is way too big/famous/established

Here’s the thing we never say out loud. If you’re a total newbie, you’re not my competition! Nor am I yours. Your ego wants to think we’re equal, but we’re not. You will be paid less than I will. (Probably.) I’ve earned it, over decades of consistently good work. You’re still earning it.

If you write about science or babies or science fiction, you’re not my competitor, nor am I yours! I sometimes think of the writers’ marketplace the way an air traffic controller sees the thousands of planes in the air. They never (thank God!) collide. Because they are all on slightly different trajectories.

Stop freaking out about all the other writers out there. Just go be better than they are. (Maybe that means being better at going to a few select conferences and finding some people to help and advise you. Not just banging away all alone at your keyboard.)

I’m scared my email or phone call will be ignored

Bet on it! Count on it! You are not (just) a writer or artist. You’re are a salesperson, hoping to sell your work to people (agents, editors) who’ve quite possibly never heard of you and couldn’t care less if you ever succeed. Be prepared to be more persistent than you ever thought you might possibly ever have to be to get to the right/powerful people who will get your career going. Then double it. Now triple it.

I hate competing

Waaaaaaah! It’s a crowded marketplace. Go big or go home.

But I’m really scared

Of what? Seriously. Of what? Creative failure does not = terrifying medical diagnosis. CF does not = end of your marriage. CF does not = your dog/cat/guinea pig just died. (A friend of mine in London, a super-successful young photographer, is mourning the loss of her guinea pig.)

It is ultimately both self-defeating and self-indulgent to sit in the corner and be too scared to get into the game. We’re all scared, damn it!

Every freaking time I turn in a story I’m still scared the editor will: hate it, not pay me, never use me again and tell everyone s/he knows that I am an incompetent hack. Hey, it can happen.

Then I hit “send.”

I will never be good enough to sell my work

Maybe not. Or maybe so. Maybe you’re trying to sell to the wrong people, or at the wrong time. (i.e. your skills are not yet good enough to compete with all the other people doing that right now.)

It’s depressing being rejected all the time

Which is why God invented martinis, puppies and very good sex. You need to feel really happy at least 63.6 percent of the time in order to deal with the nasty reality of rejection. It hurts. It really does.

I hate my life and being rejected only makes it worse

This is the real problem. I guarantee it — if you are really happy with other aspects of your life, then the endless frustration of trying to sell your work will be annoying and tiring, but it won’t kill you or make you lie in a corner in the fetal position weeping. If it does, you are placing way too much emphasis on your work. Deal with that instead.

But my blog followers love me!

Of course they do, sweetie. Your work is free. It costs them zero social, political or financial capital to read and adore you. Now go find someone to lay their reputation on the line for you…

No one will ever know my name

Pshaw. Go do some volunteer work for a year or so. Join a faith community and show up. Join a committee. Sit on a board. There’s this narcissistic fantasy that Being A Writer means everyone knows you and cares deeply about you. They don’t! You’ll find much deeper satisfaction and happiness from being a valued member of a community of people who don’t give a shit how much copy you sold this week. Get over it.

No one will ever admire or respect me

I think this is a fundamental, unacknowledged and undiscussed part of why people are SO freaked out by rejection. Since when (really) is rejection 100 percent final? You’re reading the blog of someone who applied eight times to the Globe and Mail before being hired. Who interviewed three times at Newsweek and never got hired.

No one will ever know how great I could have become

This is such self-indulgent bullshit. You either want it more than anything, or you don’t.

united states currency eye- IMG_7364_web
united states currency eye- IMG_7364_web (Photo credit: kevindean)

I will starve to death and live under a bridge in a cardboard box

I doubt it. Get a day job and keep it as long as you have to. Or make the leap of faith (with six months’ expenses in the bank and no debt. And, ideally, no dependents.) Those of us who have leaped have little patience for the endless hand-wringers.

I have nothing new or fresh to offer

Really? Then why do you want to bother?

No one wants to work with me

EQ (emotional intelligence) is the new black. EQ is the new IQ. If you’ve grown up in the U.S. in an affluent community (and many of you did not), then being really smart is often deemed the most important thing you can be. Wrong! Being someone able to get along really well within seconds with a wide range of people who are very different from you is going to move your career along a lot faster and further than only hanging with people who drive the same car and went to the same college(s.)

No one wants to help me succeed

Really? What sort of person are you? A taker, giver or matcher? Are you a selfish little wretch who rarely, if ever, returns calls or emails? Who has yet to write (yes, really) a hand-written thank-you note on very good paper and sent it through the mail to someone who gave you an interview or mentored you? There’s an inverse relationship between how greedy you are and how much anyone is interested in helping you be even more greedy.

Everyone else is doing great!

As if! The effect of Facebook on millions of fragile egos — mine included — is to make us all feel Utterly Inadequate all the fucking time. Just don’t read all those perky, upbeat, how-great-my-life-is status updates!

Who actually posts: “I hate my agent. S/he never returns my calls. My book isn’t selling. I’m living on credit cards. I owe $10,000 to American Express and everyone is paying me late.” They should. Because that’s all too often the Glamorous Reality of being a writer.

Now go kick some butt, my dears!

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50 thoughts on “Rejection to a writer is like blood to a surgeon

  1. I was very much looking forward to reading this post, and it was even better than I had hoped! I love how candid and straight forward you are. You anticipate every excuse in the book and attack it straight on. You leave the reader with only one possible response: “Well, shit, I guess I’m out of excuses!” I must say that I am very impressed with the way you are able to find and use sources so efficiently in your writing. It’s obvious that you have really good research skills because the sources you reference are always cherry-picked, right on point, and complement your piece very well. As a lawyer, research is a big part of my job. My research skills have definitely improved drastically since law school and beyond, but finding sources that are on-point can be quite challenging and time consuming. It’s clear that you have fine-tuned these skills – although I’m sure it did not happen overnight!

    1. Thanks!

      I would be a horrible boss, though! No excuses, indeed. 🙂

      Finding great sources isn’t as difficult as people seem to think, but I have been doing it for a few decades so I guess I know how to do it now. Google and social media has made it ridiculously easy.

  2. Excellent post! 🙂 Thanks for this, and for the link. I read it last night, read again this morning before replying. You hit all the major points we hang ourselves from.

    Submitting is hard, and it’s hard because of the what ifs you talked about in your post. We have to do it anyway. The internet is a funny thing. There’s the perception of how others are doing, which you talked about, and then there’s another side to it. Lots of great info to help writers work and submit to give us each the best possible shot. But there is so much information, some of it contradictory, some of it coming from other wanna bes who present themselves as AUTHORITIES, that you can get paralyzed by fear of submitting the wrong way. Yes, understand individual preferences and submission guidelines, but I’ve seen some who are so afraid to do the wrong thing they lose the flavor of their story.

    There are realities to writing that aren’t fun or pretty, and rejection is the biggest one. And loneliness, and envy, and… Rejection is the one we as writers can’t control, so we need to accept it as a part of the writing life. That said, Chuck Wendig discusses something so important within the framework–what types of rejections are you receiving? If you send out 50 queries, and get back all form rejections with no requests for partials/fulls, then it’s time to stop and reevaluate your story, your writing, and your query.

    1. I think it is very very different for writers of fiction, which I haven’t tried. The process of how and when and where to submit work or ideas seems a lot clearer to writers of non-fiction and journalism.

      I did like Wendig’s point about constant rejection and seeking patterns within it. If you’re not willing or able to handle rejection, per se, how can you handle the analysis of WHY you’re being rejected?

      Selling fiction, to me, looks insanely hard. Not sure I’d ever try it!

      1. LOL, and I’m intimidated by the non-fiction and journalism process.

        I agree, if you can’t handle rejection, odds are you will be unable to handle critique, which is a necessary and valuable part of writing. Even after acceptance; maybe more so, because now there is a professional reputation at stake.

      2. My editor on Malled wanted revisions on 10 of 12 chapters. Holy shit. I did it. But that was terrifying. Luckily, she was very smart and had a clear idea what needed doing. Not all editors are as skilled.

      3. Editing and revising is hard, on the part of the editor and the writer. I think there has to be a clear understanding on the part of the editor as to the writer’s vision, so she/he can help guide you to the sharpest, cleanest version possible. I think that’s part of what leads an editor to accept a manuscript, do they see where you’re going, and how you’re getting there?

        I’m glad you had a good experience, and hope the next one is equally positive.

  3. Excellent post! And, as usual, pretty timely for me. I recently attended a literary symposium where the YA author Shannon Hale was the guest speaker, and she brought along all of the rejection letters for her first novel laminated together into a roll that stretched nearly the length of the room she was speaking to. Perspective.

    I nearly cheered aloud at the “Stop being a special snowflake” comment, which is advice I think a lot of people need to take, for reasons both personal and professional.

    1. If you have never tasted rejection, it comes as such a face-palming shock. MOI???!!!!!

      Yes, you. And many others smarter and better than you. Where people get this fantasy they are excluded from the same shit as the rest of us is beyond me…Gah.

      I figured out why I don’t think I’m a special snowflake — I’m Canadian and know that even a snowball is made up of millions of crystals. It’s just snow, people. 🙂

  4. Rich

    I just loved this post. Your posts for the last few months have been so awesome it is not funny…nor that your other stuff wasn’t great, it’s just these last few months there is an intensity and focus and personal aspect that just hits home….this was just awesome……

  5. I think a lot of the younger people these days were brought up believing they were “Special Snowflakes” – everyone got a softball trophy and were told they could do anything. I don’t want to generalize but I know when I am on a blog too young for me when everyone is commiserating about their dating experiences. That being said, this is a most generous blog because you are sharing your experiences and telling it like it really is. Most writers will benefit from this. Thanks so much.

    1. Interesting and, I think, so true! If you don’t understand how tough life can be, and deal with it, it all comes as such a shock.

      I’m happy to share my experience. So much of what others offer about writing (it makes them look better or is overly encouraging to win pay or more readers) is not truthful enough.

  6. I finally got caught up on your blog today, and your last three posts were unsparing. I love it. I was mentored by a seasoned writer with several book publishing credits to her name, a few fancy awards, the book tours and the full package of success. Her words of warning are the same as yours, not just for new writers but for all writers: do it because you love it, the days of advances are over for almost everyone (at least in Canada), and every project is a gamble with lots of hard work that may go nowhere.

    I was told that she had a reputation for being a tough editor, but I loved working with her. She is incredibly humble herself, and a generous teacher; it wasn’t difficult to hear her tell me my early writing was crap, especially since she taught me how to fix it. So… you are spot-on, I think. My mentor also advised hiring an accountant and sticking to a financial plan, to keep food on the table for the in-between-times.

    1. Yes, yes, yes, and yes!!

      Whoever she is, she really gets it. You were very lucky to find someone there equally unsparing — and she was very lucky to have someone actually listen to her. Here in the States, everyone is utterly persuaded that Anyone Can Be President, so anyone saying otherwise is de facto a whiny loser and why listen to them?!

      Because when 1 percent of writers become Really Rich and Really Famous, why won’t it be you, too? Hmmmm, astronomically slim odds? I don’t let the hype scare me or move me off my game. But it’s hard, in the era of chest-thumping social media, not to feel envious and dumb.

      The single wisest thing is getting your finances in order so you are not having constant panic attacks about how to pay the bills. I managed to survive, alone, FT freelance from 1996 to fall of 2000, when my sweetie moved in with me. My mortgage was four figures (low) and my health insurance $500/month. It was damn tough but I did it.

      1. I love the American optimism, but how can everyone be among the 1% of people getting what they want, and none will be among the 1% getting something crappy, like being struck by lighting or experiencing a psychotic episode? I worry about the built-in blame that comes with this line of thinking, the shaming and implied ‘you’re not good enough’ judgements of simply being like 99% of the population.

        A piece on Spark, a program broadcast by CBC, addressed the social media dilemma in “Public, Private, Sharing.” The accompanying post on CBC, “Living out your fantasy life on Facebook: Creating a new online identity one Facebook post at a time” quotes Assistant Professor Alice Marwick of Fordham University in New York identifying this phenomenon as “Context collapse …[which] is not necessarily about being fake or being false, but it’s about really wanting some control over managing other people’s impression of you.” (I stole this paragraph out of one my old blog posts, but here’s the link to CBC. The piece reminds us of how fake we can be, trying to give people what we think they want to hear:

        And yes, I was lucky to have a great mentorship experience. The process of the mentorship was through a formal application, and a group of anonymous readers paired us. Like you, I did a degree in English but had no formal training in writing. I worked as hard as I could on my own, but needed help, so I asked for someone effective. I got it. (which proves your point, again)

      2. Exactly!

        One of the ugly things about life in the U.S. (as I moved here from Canada in 1988 when I was 30) is this INSANE insistence that everything is going to be GREAT! It might be why no one saves for retirement. But it has a flip side which is punitive and isolating in the extreme, which is what you describe — that when you “fail”, i.e. don’t Make It Big (because, hey, anyone can!) — it’s all your fault. You must have done something wrong. Or many things wrong.

        There is a total disregard for the toxic effects of a system with no social safety net, no severance pay, no paid maternity leave. People are crazy self-righteous when they “win” and you “lose” with little notion that some people — to continue the American baseball analogy — are born on third but convinced they hit a triple. Riiiiiiiight.

      3. Yes, and I think we saw a lot of this in the international media during George W.’s presidency, and all events that unfolded with war, oil, and the economy. It was painful to watch the oligarchy in action. We Canadians saw very few Americans questioning the politics of war, instead individuals were often supporting policy that directly harmed them… and the same seems to be the same with medicare now. Is this an accurate portrayal of American culture?

      4. I’d say so.

        The general level of education/political awareness here is shockingly low and unsophisticated. Many Americans have never traveled outside the U.S. and have no interest or knowledge of other nations and their policies. Only 15% of Americans have advanced degrees and something like 50% never graduate college (if that is a measure of intelligence or political awareness.) They listen to Fox or MSNBC for “news” and vote accordingly.

        I find it pretty appalling.

      5. I didn’t know it was that low. CBC ran a program called ‘Generation Jobless’ a while ago, making a statement that ranked Canadians really high in the world for being over-educated and under-employed. Sometimes I pick up suggestions that this situation in economics could have the potential to spark new innovations, if only Canadians learn to become less polite and more assertive in business. How strange that what the US has in spades–pushiness–Canada lacks, but in education the other is opposite. It fascinates me that the two countries are so different. thanks for this conversation… I should let you get back to your work.

      6. It’s the weekend! I try to make sure I don’t work on weekends.

        But, yes, it’s weird the nations are so different. I’ve really become totally fed up with Canadians when trying to do “business”. I see a sot of risk-aversion that is almost pathological and, frankly, absurd. I try to avoid doing any sort of business with them/us. Which is a somewhat shocking thing to say but such a time-suck!

        Here, you take the damn risk, go bankrupt (or not), go to prison (hello, Martha Stewart) and keep moving.

      7. Amanda Lang wrote a book that is in this same line of conversation. What struck me, in reading it, is that this isn’t exactly how all Canadians are. Some of us are smart enough to pull off some pretty wild ideas, given a chance. We’re well educated, and we have social safety nets. We should be swinging from the rafters with all our great ideas, living in a system that should be an ideal support for bringing them to life.

        I am really interested in this topic, and have been trying to explore the question of historical innovation in prairie settlement. There is a fascinating push-pull that exists around unique ideas, either people see an immediate benefit to themselves and support it, or they regard the idea as ‘crazy.’ There seems to be no indifferent on-lookers, quietly giving people space to do what they need to do. Canada is a ‘committee’ society, and I think this is the problem. We’re too involved with each other’s lives, believing our opinions are relevant. That judgement kills so many creative ideas.

      8. Such an interesting conversation!

        I agree, Canadians have so much more safety. And have NO idea how bloody spoiled they are compared to Americans. Maybe that’s exactly the problem….there’s no Canada Council grant here (unless you are a Big Star) and get a Guggenheim/Macarthur/Neiman. Here it’s balls to the wall and good luck with it. What I value most here is the assumption that you will swing HARD and not be embarrassed by failure. Here, the biggest “failure” is wimping out and not trying whatever your idea is. In Canada I was terrified of failure and there was also much more stigma attached to it.

        I joke that all the words starting with “co” (except conflict!) are very Canadian: cold, committee, cooperation, conversation (vs. action), compromise…

      9. And certainly not ‘competition.’ Competitive awards are no longer given in Saskatchewan school systems, and grading is now done on a rubric of “meeting”, “approaching” and “beginning” to meet expectations. We parents are told this is being done to standardize education across western Canada. There is talk that this form of grading is to be extended beyond elementary and junior high schools to senior classes now. The reasoning behind this is that competition increases childhood anxiety, so comparative grading (i.e. percentages) won’t be assigned.

        My oldest child has anxiety issues, which are much worse when she doesn’t get solid, honest feedback on her performance. Her younger sister isn’t anxiety-prone, but there is a marked difference in her emotional state (happier, more secure) when she knows where she ranks. Competitive sports and programs are necessary for emotional well-being. My kids can come in last place at a water polo tournament and deal with it, and the more competition they engage in the easier it is to take the losses with the wins. The point is, people need realistic tests of their skills. My oldest struggles when her feed back in academics (at which she excels) is getting the “awesome penmanship” award. It lets in too much self-doubt, and when she’s not rewarded for her REAL skills, she wonders if the teacher doesn’t like her as much as the other kids… and she’s not alone in this worry.

        Perhaps this affirms that grant money and social programs undermine us in the same way. Canadians really struggle with understanding the difference between who they are and what they do… there is so much needless self-shaming when a business decision doesn’t work out as they want it.

      10. Pardon me, but OMFG. Shrieking at top of lungs…

        I attended a private girls’ school and all-girl camp to the age of 13 and 16. For better or worse, there was a lot of competition all the time. At school, we won awards for best in class (that would be ONE girl only; I won it in Grade Five and was beaten by my best friend in Grade Six); for essay contests that ruthlessly pitted Grades 6,7 and 8 against one another (I won it in Grade eight), etc. One of the reasons I was quite confident deciding to become a writer was that I kept winning writing competitions…which seemed to suggest I had talent.

        I also saw very quickly that I was very good at acting (always won the lead in summer musicals) but crummy at some sports. It’s utter insanity to suggest to kids that they are good at everything. They know they’re not! Who wants to be lied to?!

        As to the self-shaming, here’s a true story that will probably amuse you. I got a NYC magazine editor’s job in 1996. Alone, (!) I was to edit an entire 48-page bi-monthly trade publication. No staff, and crap freelance budgets. I had very little of that experience and a boss who had zero interest in helping to mentor or train me to gain skills. I got fired after six months. I was absolutely mortified and ashamed by this and called the headhunter who had placed me (and claimed a nice fee for so doing) — to apologize. She laughed, nicely, and said “If you haven’t been fired a few times in this industry, you’re doing something wrong. It needs people with strong opinions.” (or something like that.)

        I’ve been canned a few times since. Big deal. Americans fire people like they change their socks. You can’t afford to freak out each time or you’d have a nervous breakdown. It does tend to totally alter how you view work and its importance, let alone “failure.” I prefer (however financially disruptive it is — and it is!) the American approach. Job security is great, but people who cling to their jobs for decades (and there are people STILL at the Globe who were there when I left in 1986)….not for me.

      11. I know you’ve written about the high percentage of contract/freelance workers, and I know that contract work has been my normal for most of my adulthood. Moving on to other work is good, although I admit, it was an adjustment to learn that this is okay. It’s very old-school to stay in permanent employment, and it took me a while to notice that in my age category (i.e. not my parents’ gen), I was normal to rarely get more than a contract. Other people my age have said they’ve experienced that moment of recognition when they knew that judging their jobs as people did in the past–as intrinsic to ourselves and necessarily continuous–doesn’t work in today’s work world. It’s been liberating, and the on-going process of competition for work has been a life-long reminder that options are always available, even when I don’t get what I want. And, as you noted about yourself and writing competitions, I also learned that it has been my writing skills which has landed me a lot of my work. It’s been affirming. I’d much rather be writing than doing many of the other things that come with other work, so why not focus on this full time? It’s not difficult to transfer the skills. Perhaps the younger people in Canada, who struggle even more than I did for employment, will do competition and risk even better (despite the bloody schools 😉 ).

      12. My husband, in this respect, a total dinosaur — he’s been at the NYT since 1984. Since 1984, I’ve had eight staff jobs — and many long years freelance, the most recent stint being seven years (!) without a salary of any sort. The dirty secret of self-employment is how empowering it is. People with “real” jobs often pity us but also envy our freedom. If we hate a client or project, well it’s not forever. Even wonderful ones might not be either, but it teaches you to adapt and be flexible — which are essential lifelong survival skills.

        I may do some work with a local architect and we laughed at the truth of “we eat what we kill.” There’s great pride in that.

  7. I feel like this article is applicable to a lot more than just writing — it’s applicable to any kind of career choice not to mention relationships. I’ve recently started job hunting again so this hits home. Sometimes, the worst rejection is simply not hearing back. Oh and I can’t believe Newsweek didn’t hire you! Do you still interview for jobs and do you still get nervous?

    1. Ouch. Good luck! Good to hear from you again, though. 🙂

      Rejection is the pits. And, I agree, better to be told “no” than nothing.

      I don’t interview for jobs because I prefer working alone at home. I get nervous with every new client/editor meeting, but not terribly. I know what I’m doing and what value I can offer, so if they don’t see it, I did a lousy job selling or they’re not really in the market after all or it just wasn’t a fit.

      I don’t interview very well, and that fact makes me nervous. I’m still Canadian enough that the hard sell feels weird to me, but it’s expected.

      I went to D.C. in December as one of 14 finalists (of 278 app’s) for a $20,000 fellowship and had to do a personal interview. I was somewhat nervous and only had 15 minutes (!) and five judges across the table. I emerged with a migraine. And did not win. Next year! 🙂

      1. Thanks.

        One of the reasons I left Canada and stayed in the States is that here it’s OK — normal — to be really assertive, even aggressive. Canadians hate it and fear it and shun it. I never had to “sell” myself hard in Canada and had to learn it here. Now I am totally useless when dealing with Canadians in any form of business. I’ve been trying and it’s a disaster; as my husband says, all foreplay, no sex. No one ever makes a decision!

  8. I enjoyed the forthright tone of this post, and much of the content.

    Yes, if you’re a writer, rejection is simply part of the game, and the game is tough, very tough, perhaps one of the toughest on the planet. So it’s essential to know your reasons for doing this crazy thing, particularly if it’s fiction, which is mostly what I do.

    However, there’s one point that I disagree on: we are not our work. Really?

    I understand the sound reasoning behind why we should think this way, but whenever something I’ve written is rejected – and this is the context of having written and published a novel, two novellas, over 40 short stories, and something approaching 100 non-fiction features and columns – I find it incredibly difficult to separate the ‘me’ from the work. And I’ve been writing seriously for over 20 years. I just find that to make a work really fresh and original and ALIVE I need to put my heart and soul into it.

    Of course, I’ve learnt that I need a strategy to cope with the rejection that happens, and it happens much more frequently than I would like. What’s the strategy? The 24-hour rule. If something bad happens – say, a story gets rejected – I give myself 24 hours to feel terrible, then I’ve just got to pick myself up and keep going and never look back.

    Interestingly enough, the 24-hour rule also works the other way: if something great happens, I give myself 24 hours to feel all chuffed with myself and the world, then I’ve just got to keep going and never look back.

    Thanks, as always, for your strong and articulate views.

    1. Thanks…I’ve missed your comments! Hope all is well with the chooks and cottage.

      I think I’m a little (ok, a lot) hard-hearted. If I remain too attached to the material, what happens when (sigh) an editor mangles it or cuts or chops out (as just happened on my latest NYT opus) 1/3 of it? Freak out? Argue for it — and piss them off and lose a client because suddenly you’re the PITA diva writer and everyone else (who knows?) caves?

      I also think you write a very different sort of material, from what I’ve read. It’s often quite beautiful and pensive. Mine is often a shitload of reporting, some decent analysis and hopefully some decent phrasing. You’re probably making an exquisite tea-table. I’m making a dinner table for eight…i.e. serviceable but hardly Beautiful. I very rarely get assignments (nor seek them) for pieces that I will end up feeling very emotional about. It’s work. I enjoy it, but it’s work.

      I am far more attached to my books’ content. I see much of my journalism, for better or worse, as income, and never enough of it.

      Do I put my heart and soul into my writing? Sometimes. It is so rarely rewarded that I have learned to economize in this respect.

      But there are occasional pieces, much more personal like these (if you have any interest)…all are older essays…

  9. evanescentmatter

    Well now. This may just be the kick-ass entree I’ve been waiting for quite a while. And I’ve read (and re-read) a multitude of inspirational articles. I’m not a writer but I know how it feels to doubt my own capacity when everyone else around you seem so sure of themselves. I like the no-nonsense attitude of dealing with self-pity. Although, I admit this is something I still have to learn. Plus, I’ve never seen anyone explain the importance of EQ the way you have and it’s quite refreshing. Encouraging even. You have a very insightful blog. Thanks for sharing all these.

    1. Thanks…

      If you ever work freelance, as many readers here have, or are doing, you learn very quickly you can sit around freaking out or get a real job or get a part-time job or just Get On With It. My worklife is so filled with frustrations and BS that wasting all my energy on it would be pretty time-consuming.

      EQ is so often forgotten…I have to work with such a wide range of people and personalities that my intelligence or writing skill is for naught if I can’t figure everyone out enough how to work with everyone enough to get and keep clients. I think freelancing forces you to up your game as it’s a matter of economic survival. (Which it also is in “real jobs.”) I am no expert at EQ in practice, but I am aware how essential it is to success.

  10. justaweirdthought

    OMG!! I have all that sh!t in my mind all the time. I think I am also too young to approach publishers with my work. I fear they will not like my naive thoughts or language (and everything else that you have mentioned).

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