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Coping with Disappointment and Rejection
As writers, we pour our heart and soul into our work. While the specific details of our stories or novels may not be consistent with real life – our protagonist may not even share our philosophies – the thoughts, emotions and underlying belief system are ours. No wonder it’s so hard to separate ourselves, our psyche, from our work!
Yet, for the sake of our writing – never mind our sanity – it’s important that we do.
Conflating self and work shifts the emotional emphasis from work as a product of labor to work as an expression of our personal identity. Acceptance or rejection, criticism or acclaim – these subjective, often idiosyncratic, judgments become an assessment of us. Great when the feedback is positive, not so great when it’s not.
Because it’s so difficult to separate from our work, every rejection – however subjective – feels personal, like an assault on our being. After a painful rejection, a failed or unfulfilled contract, a negative book review, it can be hard to bounce back.
Despondent after failing to find a publisher for his novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole committed suicide. The novel, published posthumously, won the Pulitzer Prize. Most of us don’t go to that length after a rejection (nor win the Pulitzer), but I’ve seen writers succumb to depression. I’ve struggled myself.
Negative reviews felt personal, like a rejection of me, a statement of my ability and potential. I’d forget all the terrific reviews, the encouraging messages I’ve received from readers who loved my book, the agents and editors who’ve referred to me as talented. Instead, I’d revisit every rejection.The book is too slow, too depressing, too boring. The characters are unlikeable, they behave badly. I’m embarrassed to admit this, because it’s so pathetic – bad reviews made me feel like a loser. Or they used to.
Yes, used to. Out of necessity, I’ve learned to separate myself from the work. I won’t lie: bad reviews sting. Now, instead of allowing reviews to attack my self-worth, as I used to, I give myself an hour to wallow, and then I brush myself off and move on.
Here are three simple strategies to help you do the same:
Remind yourself that preferences and tastes differ.
Remember: rejection is often subjective. The agent or editor may simply prefer a style or genre that differs from yours. The same applies to reviewers. As readers, we have specific preferences. Although I’ll give almost any book a try, I’m not a big fan of paranormal fiction. To enjoy a paranormal read, I have to fall in love with the characters and be drawn deeply into the world. These are elements of all great fiction, yes, but if I were reading a police procedural, a genre I love, I might be more forgiving. As readers, we understand preference and taste; as writers, we forget.
Next time you fret over a rejection, remember John Kennedy Toole, whose widely rejected book won the Pulitzer Prize. To let go of a bad review, read the reviews of books you love and take heart in the fact that they, too, have received some negative reviews. Beloved, by Toni Morrison, the 1988 Pulitzer Prize winner, considered a must-read by many people, has over 4000 one-star ratings on Goodreads. Does this make it any less great? Of course not. Those low ratings simply reflect reader taste.
Focus on the positive.
We may never know why an agent turned us down, an editor rejected our work, or a reader disliked our book. To continue writing, to keep heart in a field that is at times hostile toward writers, it’s crucial to recognize that we, as individuals, are separate from our work. Rather than internalizing negative energy, focus on your positive moments. Remind yourself of compliments you’ve received, editors who’ve accepted your work, or reviewers who’ve praised your book. If you think it might help, create a success list. Keep your list handy; pull it out whenever you’re down and need a lift.
Finally, as a wise friend advised me: always keep more than one iron in the fire. The minute you put a manuscript in the mail, or publish your book – while you’re still full of energy – begin a new one. A new project provides distance and perspective. Rejection will always hurt. When you’re immersed in a new project, older work feels less immediate, and any rejection less painful. Work-in-progress gives you hope.
These three simple strategies, if you do face disappointment, will help you move on!
~*~*~*~ Even More – The Interview ~*~*~*~
Thank you, Terri! The pleasure’s all mine. Now down to business. (Amie rubs her hands together. She LOVES this part.)
Where did the story idea come from/how did it come about?
Years ago, I wrote a series of feature articles about families with drug- and alcohol-addicted teens. The moms talked candidly about their children, their struggles. Their heartbreaking stories stayed with me.
When I began writing In Leah’s Wake my own daughters were teens. Most families experience conflict during their children’s teenage years. As kids grow up and begin to make their own way in the world, it’s natural for them to rebel. We’re no different from most families, although any conflicts we experienced were tame – not remotely resembling the problems and difficult challenges the Tylers face in the book.
As a parent, I knew how it felt to be scared, concerned for my children’s future. I now recognize this as the primary force driving this story. My work with families, my personal experiences and core beliefs – all these things played on my conscious and subconscious mind, and ultimately emerged as this book.
One thing you want the reader to walk away with after reading this book.
The epigraph from The Grand Inquisitor says it best: “everyone is really responsible to all men for all men and for everything.” Although the Tyler family is far from perfect, they’re decent people, and they love one another deeply. Had the community rallied around and supported rather than ostracizing them, perhaps Leah would not have gotten as lost. Most teens just want to feel accepted and loved – not for what they accomplish or contribute, but for who they are. I’d be thrilled if my novel inspired readers to suspend judgment, to look less harshly at troubled teens and their families. I feel that we owe it to our teens, our communities, and ourselves to support and encourage all kids, not just those who conform. As Hillary Clinton famously said, it takes a village to raise a child. We must all do our part to be supportive members of the village.
Why did you choose your genre?
In Leah’s Wake is contemporary or literary fiction. My novel-in-progress, Nowhere to Run, is a psychological thriller with a historical twist. While the genres may differ, my stories always tie back to the family. Families fascinate me. The dynamics are interesting and, in many ways, strange—so often, we hurt the people we love most, perhaps because we know that no matter what happens, even if the relationship severs, we’ll always maintain a familial connection. Even if we strive to be different, we are a product of our family. For better or worse, our family shapes us, teaches us how to love and what it means to be part of a community. I own an anthology called We Are the Stories We Tell. If, in essence, we are our family, it makes sense that we – readers – would be drawn to and connect with their stories.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing?
I’m a perfectionist. I tend to write, revise, tinker, tinker, revise. I find it hard to let go. This is a bad habit and one I’m trying to break. I’m also easily distracted. If I stop writing to do anything else – take a call, tweet, answer e-mail, do research – I fall into a rabbit hole and I can lose hours, if not the entire day.
With children living on both coasts, my husband and I frequently travel cross-country. On a long flight, you’re trapped; most people disappear into their own world – watch TV, read, work on their laptop or iPad – in a sense, though surrounded by people, you’re alone. With my headphones on, I relax and my mind opens up – I’ve come up with a lot of good ideas, and written quite a few first drafts on planes.
What advice would you give to writers just starting out?
Believe in yourself. To deal with rejection, boot your computer day after day, when it seems as if no one cares about you or your work, as if the stars are misaligned, you have to believe in yourself.
Writing is a lonely profession. Most of the time, we’re sitting at our desk, alone with our work. That loneliness can wear on you, and cause you to question yourself. A community of caring writer friends, supporting and encouraging you, can pick you up when your confidence wanes.
Hold onto your dreams. You can make them happen. Don’t ever, ever give up on yourself!
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
I’m only ever truly blocked—I can’t string words together at all—when I’m anxious, if I’m worried about someone I care about. When I first sit down at my computer, I sometimes feel blocked, the editors on my shoulders heckling: You think you’re a writer? Seriously? Hahaha. Idiot. To get the voices out of my head, I dig in. The writing may be choppy, but eventually, as I give myself over to the work, I gain fluidity.
When the demons are too loud to ignore, I read. Reading, like meditation or yoga, sends me to my happy place. In my experience – 16 years as a writing teacher, working with professional and emerging writers – a block is almost always caused by self-doubt. The trick is to find a way to settle your mind, calm yourself, and get rid of those nasty internal editors. For me, reading relieves anxiety, opens my mind. For others, walking, meditating, or listening to music helps.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
Reading, hands down, is the most important tool we have at our disposal. Studies show that reading is the most effective way to learn grammar. We learn best through osmosis. Reading, we internalize the various aspects of style and voice. We learn to use language and, as writers, we discover new ideas for integrating craft techniques into our work. To solve problems in my own writing, I always turn to a book. If I’m not sure how to tie a past and present story together, for instance, I’ll read or reread a passage or a book, analyze the technique the writer used, and incorporate it or, more often, adjust it to suit my own purposes. If I were not an avid reader, I cannot imagine ever having become a writer.
~*~*~*~ Praise for In Leah’s Wake and Terri Long ~*~*~*~
~*~*~*~ Author Bio ~*~*~*~
Terri Giuliano Long is a frequent blog guest. A contributing writer for IndieReader, she’s written for news and feature articles for numerous publications, including IndieReader, the Boston Globe and the Huffington Post. She lives with her family on the East Coast and teaches at Boston College. In Leah’s Wake is her debut novel. For more information, please visit her website: www.tglong.com
~*~*~*~ Connect with Terri ~*~*~*~
~*~*~*~ Thanks Again ~*~*~*~
to Terri for stopping by, for allowing me the opportunity to read In Leah ‘s Wake, and allowing me to drill her with questions.
And many thanks to all of you for stopping by as well!
Lots of <3–Amie