“Loving failure is a really great skill to develop as a writer.” – Gail Carriger
I thought I knew how to deal with rejection.
At my first writing conference/contest, my novel was disqualified completely. One of my best friends takes every opportunity to mock pretty much everything I write. When I was fifteen, I had a group of would-be writers in a forum completely rip apart a novel in such a way that I didn’t touch the computer for nearly a week.
Basically, I’ve spent more than a decade trying to build up the thick skin I knew I’d need to deal with getting published.
However, I hadn’t realized how epically difficult it is to deal with rejection and failure when one of your best friends is celebrating an awesome success. So when that particular situation hit me over the head unexpectedly earlier this year, it really threw me for a loop.
All my previous coping mechanisms were not quite as applicable, as I was dealing with the weirdest emotional juxtaposition ever. On the one hand, I was thrilled for my friend. On the other hand, I felt like someone had thrown me on the ground and started kicking.
So, here’s how I got back in the writing saddle.
Step One: Celebrate your friend’s success.
Cheer for them when they get their award, send a congratulatory Tweet, give them a shout-out on your blog: whatever it is you do to celebrate, do it!
Be supportive for your friend and be genuinely excited and happy for their good fortune. They would do the same for you.
Step Two: Allow yourself to be bummed out.
Cry. Rant. Drink. Eat bonbons. Scribble in your journal about the unfairness of it all. If you’re the type who needs to vent to others, vent away.
You’ve just been rejected. It’s perfectly reasonable to feel bad about it. Give yourself permission to be bummed out about it for just a little while.
Note: Don’t actually do any of this in front of your friend. Let them have their time in the sun, okay? You can talk to them about it later.
Step Three: Do not, under any circumstances, make ANY decisions while bummed out.
When you’re feeling like crap, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap and let the Doubt Monsters in. They say lots of things, but it all boils down to “You’re not good enough. You should just quit trying.”
Don’t listen to them. Don’t make any rash decisions while you’re in the bummed-out mode. You’re not thinking clearly. You’re thinking emotionally, and you should not make major decisions in that state of mind.
Just put everything away until you’re no longer in the pit.
Step Four: When you’re no longer bummed out, take a long, hard look at your story.
For me, getting to the “not bummed” stage takes a couple of days, sometimes a little longer. Once you’ve gotten past it, take out your story and your feedback again and look at it with a critical eye.
A lot of things will be just one person’s opinion, but if you’ve had three or more people give you similar criticisms on an aspect of your story, you probably ought to listen and start brainstorming how to fix it.
Another question to ask at this point is “Do I need to keep working on this story, or is it time to set it aside and work on something else?”
It’s really difficult to give an answer to this, but sometimes it is time to put a story on the back burner or in the bottom drawer.
In my case, I made the decision to start focusing more on other work. I still love the novel and I’ll still revise and query it. However, I’ve been working on it for years and it’s based on a story I originally came up with in high school, when my plot decisions were made based purely on the “that sounds AWESOME” algorithm.
Going back years later and trying to come up with plausible explanations for those decisions is an exhausting exercise in and of itself. I’d like to have a first draft where the plot points actually came in service of the story, rather than “it seemed like a good idea at age 14.”
Step Five: Pick up the pen (or open the computer) and start writing again.
If you’re going to revise, start revising. If you’re still too raw to work on your revision, pick a prompt and scribble out a short story. If you’re going to move onto other projects, tackle a plot bunny and get to work.
Yeah, it’s hard, especially if the Doubt Monsters are still creeping into your brain (and they will, even when you’re not bummed out). But you may well find that getting started is, in fact, the hardest part, and once you do start, you’ll get back into the swing of things.
This is where having a wonderful, supportive group of friends (both online and in real life) can really come in handy, because they won’t let you fail.
Dealing with rejection is hard enough; dealing with it when your friends are rejoicing is doubly so. Just remember that writing isn’t a zero-sum game, and just because your friend had the success this time doesn’t mean you never will.
So how do you deal with rejection, particularly when your friends aren’t?
Coffee mug picture by Tilemahos on Flickr