Once More, With Feeling

Dame Lili

Today’s Friday post comes from Reader Cat K., who asked the Deadline Dames:

How do you find the guts to keep going? I’ve sent out some queries, did my research, and all I keep on getting is the R word – that horrible word that has the capability to break your heart,to shatter hopes and dreams.

From reading your blog for almost a year – I know this happens, and that it happens a lot. So, how is it that you guys keep on going? Don’t you ever doubt yourselves, your stories? Do you ever say “Well, shit. I’ve tried my best, now it’s time to let it go.”? Was there ever time you wanted to give up? Break down into a snivelling heap on the floor? Scream to the heavens, “Why does no one like my book!?!?!?”?

What I really want to know is this: Do I just have to duck my head, stick my tongue out at the last agent that rejected me, and burrow my way through until I finally get representation?

I am sorry to say this, but…yeah. Ducking your head, sticking your tongue out, and burrowing your way through is the only way I know how to do it. There’s another critical component, which is trying to polish your craft until you get to the point where someone tells you why they rejected your work. Listening to someone tell you why is possibly the most painful thing a writer can face, and it engages every defense a person has built up to protect themselves from pain. Plenty of people retreat from writing for publication because of that pain.

This is a reasonable response. It’s the same reason people snatch their fingers back from a hot stove, it f$%#&ing hurts.

On the other hand, if you live your life in fear of rejection, it’s going to be very goddamn uncomfortable and you’ll get rejected anyway. Rejection is a daily occurrence. People get rejected for dates, jobs, publication, recording contracts, aid, all sorts of things. Rejection is like the rain here in the Pacific Northwest. It rains on the just, the unjust, and the just-plain-weary equally. It is a fact of life.

That’s the bad news.

The good news? There are as many ways of dealing with and overcoming rejection as there are human beings. You can find one that works for you with enough practice.

One that I really liked was the Rejection Party. You get a bunch of your friends together, throw all the rejection letters in a bag or a hat, and then everyone takes turns reading the rejection letters out of the hat, using a crazy accent or acting it out with obscene gestures, you get the idea. (Shots of liquor are optional during this game, as long as everyone’s a grownup.) The game usually devolves into hysterical laughter and in-jokes, and it’s a great way to take the sting out of rejection. (It can also get a little crazy, so be warned.)

My own particular method has been a variety of near-pathological persistence. Quitting wasn’t an option; getting good enough that someone somewhere would publish something was my only option. Once I made up my mind, I became very teachable. This is, I think, crucial. Thinking that you know everything about writing, that the editors just don’t understand your geeeeeeenyus, that they owe you a chance–well, that’s the best way to get stuck with rejections for the rest of your natural born. Try, no matter how hard or how painful, to view rejection as both a crushing disappointment and an invitation to learn something.

There’s no use in lying, so I won’t. Rejection hurts. Even after you get an agent, you are still rejected by publishers; after you have a publisher you can still be rejected by readers. There is no insurance against it. There are a million different reasons why someone might not like your book. Some of those reasons may lie in your writing, some may lay with the reader, but you won’t every know for sure. It’s the kind of question that can drive you crazy.

How do you find the guts to keep going? I agree with Matt Hughes: It’s a question of no surrender. You can make up your mind that you’re not going to be beaten. You can laugh at the slings and arrows of rejection and mock them in funny accents. You can set your chin and stubbornly plow ahead, you can make it a contest–see how close you can get each time, compete with yourself.

Best of all, (and this is something I’ve never told anyone about before) you can go into any bookstore and take any book off the shelf. Look at it. Heft it in your hand. Open it up and see the text. Smell the paper.

Now, think about this: The person who wrote that book was rejected too, many a time. They persisted at least more time than they were rejected. If all else fails, you can just tell yourself “one more time”. As many times as you can. As many times as it takes.

It’s the only way I know.

Over and out.

About Lilith

Lilith Saintcrow fell in love with writing when she was ten years old. She’s been doing it ever since, through many jobs, two kids, at least eight cats, a divorce, and thousands of rejection slips. She volunteers in a bookstore for fun and is generally a boring person, despite the subject matter of her novels. You can find out more about her here.

Comments

  1. Wow. Kaz directed me over here right at the time I needed to read this most. You know the part where you polish yourself at least well enough to learn WHY you got rejected? That’s where I am right now–trying to get someone to at least tell me why. The few who did manage to give me a line or two… I made good on their comments.

    But still, it’s so hard not to believe that there comes a time you just aren’t good enough and should give up. I did that with music, a while back, just accepted that I wasn’t good enough and quit. You’ve made me rethink that decision as well.

  2. Thank you for answering my question! It helped…. A LOT.

  3. Thanks for such a fantastic post, Lilith. I’m working on my first novel right now, and I know it’s going to be a long, difficult road if I ever want to get published. It’s good to hear an honest take on rejection, and to get confirmation that the only way to succeed is to improve your craft and to be persistent.

  4. Well said. You’ve got to ask yourself, “How badly do I want this?” And then build the tools of your craft, meld it with the art, and keep going. No matter what.

  5. sigh. Honestly I’ve never had so much trouble with the inner bitch.
    I am making it through the editing, I am even up to handling the rejection-go-round. What I AM having difficulty with is after printing off my manuscript and editing it, putting the edits back into my computer.
    My brain just doesn’t seem to… well. Handle it. After looking at the page and looking back at the screen and typing in stuff bit by bit for an hour I’m spent. My brain does not compute the tedious process. Any tips on how to handle that or make it easier? I don’t have a scanner or anything, and of course there’s no one else but moi to do this grunt work.
    Am I just being a super-wimp or what? … am i alone out there?

  6. Thank you so much for this post. I was blessed to have a short story published after only 2 submissions.

    I find that I am afraid to submit my work. Two of my best friends convinced me to send in my short story.

    I waited for the rejection but, received a contract instead. Too say I was thrilled, is an understatement.

    Now I’m working on trying to have my first book published.

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