Sunday, 13 March 2005

How to cope with rejection

Waiting on editorial responses is akin to waiting on a lover's reply. Only the posties day off is for ringing sweaty hands in your pinny while skulking around in dirty moccasins, your hand in the Tim Tam canister. Other days, mail arrival brings a mad hope-filled rush to the letter box until the discovery of the dreaded rejection slip. The editor tells you, not today.
How do writers, especially new writers cope with rejection? They don’t handle it well so get rid of that expectation immediately. It is experienced in stages like grief. It is tied to our self esteem, our hope to redeem ourselves with our inner critics who are based on real critics, mother, father, siblings, friends, teachers, even the woman at the post office that made the odd expression when you told her the documents are your manuscript because you’re a writer.
First stage of rejection recovery is shock, then denial, anger, depression and eventually acceptance. Unlike grief, the emotions are happening to you much faster. If you were to act it out, you’d look like you were having a convulsion and you are, on the inside.

What to do – eleven suggestions.

1. Cry. Tears flush away anger and disappointment. For the big boys (either gender) who don’t cry, try repeatedly flushing the toilet.
2. Make a mental note to take a course in writing at the level you are at. You’ll know if you are at the right level because the teacher will praise you a lot.
3. Divide rejections into categories
a) Form letter
b) Form letter with editor’s personal note – hand written of course.
c) Form letter with editor’s personal note signed using first name (yes this distinction is important, don’t argue with me, refer back to point 1.)
d) Personal letter on letterhead (book publishers) sighting strengths but declining to make an offer (this has to be the worst)
4. Divide rejections by status of the publication. It’s subjective, you decide.
5. Make a list that suits you about why they rejected your masterpiece; literary magazines: your work is too commercial; this is good; get it to a commercial publication quick-smart. Lesser mags: you can always say the work is too high brow. Underline any on your list that you don’t believe. You must suffer for your art, it’s only one person’s opinion and they don’t count (I particularly hate this one, said to me repeatedly by a writing teacher I out grew. I hate it because I wouldn’t have sent it to an editor whose opinion didn’t matter. After all you are expecting everyone’s subjective experience of your work to be positive.)
6. Make a list of encouraging quotes and read them. Buy yourself a set of Angel/Fairy/Dolphin cards and pick a card.
7. Make a list of Authors who took years to get into print. Put the name Manil Suri in bold somewhere. I read Manil Suri took ten years to get into print with only one other publication in Bulgaria, I think. I read, he then sold, Death of Vishnu for $350,000 and the next book for much more.
8. Do reread the story and improve it. Check spelling.
9. Keep lots of stamps and envelopes to do quick on the spot submissions so you are back in the running. My Mum use to say, ‘you have to be in it, to win it.’
10. Make a folder, titled, Editors’ Responses. It’s a good way to keep track of where you have sent what so if the editor changes, you can send it again.
Make another folder, titled, ‘wins’, ‘I’m bloody marvellous’ or whatever, for published material and competition success.
11. Take a warm bath, with a cup of tea and a couple of how-to books on writing, in the pretence you feel like honing your skills because you are a good writer who intends to succeed.
Refer back to what to do eleven suggestions and make your own ritual around these. Getting active when you feel a failure, leads to success. Remember you only feel a failure; you are not one, unless you give up writing altogether.

Things to avoid.

The Tim Tam canister.
Drink, drugs and rock’n roll -- cuts into writing time.
Sharing with other writers -- now that depends. If you have a supportive little network, then share. (you’ll know this if your first success is met with comments that elate rather than wound. Mental note, if they wound, promise to keep it under your hat in future) But each win can bring major jealousy. Remember how you felt when the person in the class/group/conference that you least liked, succeeded?

How to deal with jealousy.

Jealousy is a normal reaction when someone gets what you want. Jealous people in denial do strange things. I had a request from a major publisher for a manuscript, now if you’re seasoned you’ll know that means very little, other than raised anxiety disguised as excitement. But it was met with a phone call from a writing ‘friend’ while I was reviewing the manuscript before sending it. She decided this was the best moment to allege a family member of mine had wronged her. It was a distraction I didn’t need.
More obvious jealousy can manifest as someone uninvited, taking a red pen or even a pencil to your work, pointing out you can’t spell and completely overlooking the merit in the story.
If people are jealous of you, you must be moving along nicely. Send them love and avoid them at all cost.

What to do if you feel jealous

Keep it to yourself. Once you recognise it’s okay to have the emotion, you can deal with it by reassuring yourself that there is plenty of room for everyone. Yes there is. I have sat through talks by published writers who suggest God loves them more than the rest of us, but they’re wrong. Their attitude is limiting and will return to bite them on the bum.
Grown up people are generous toward others. Also, if a person who was once where you are now has succeeded, why not you?

About the author

When I began writing, I couldn’t spell. As a matter-of-fact, I was grieving and couldn’t do much at all. But I wrote great paragraphs and turned some of them into stories. I enrolled in a Victorian CAE course and met a wonderful teacher who was very supportive. Her attitude was if you write, start calling yourself a writer. Fill in occupation on your passport application with the new title. Publish anywhere you can. My first publication was in a Melbourne local newspaper. I learned to attract teachers and advisers who believed in me and could help me progress, to let go of the teachers that limited my dreams. Now that I am published and have had some success in competitions, I know things can only get better. I’ll be finishing this article with, her latest novel…in the not so distant future.

Robyn Rose is a writer and a psychologist registered in the State of Queensland.
Robyn Singer Rose
Psychologist / Writer