We've all heard it. If you want to be a writer, you're going to get rejected. But sometimes rejection isn't the worst thing you have to battle. Sometimes it's your view of yourself that screws everything up.
Other people don't see what you see when you look in the mirror. Other writers/ agents/ editors don't see what you see when they read your work. There are ways you can keep your self-doubt in check, and the first step is always to get away from the mirror.
One of the things I love about being married is that if I'm unsure about some part of my appearance, I can ask for someone else's opinion. Granted, Joe is (more than) a bit biased in that area, but he has never been one to withhold vital information from me. Like, for instance, if I had something hanging out of my nose, he'd tell me. If my pantyline was showing, he'd tell me. If my hair looked like a frizz bomb, he'd tell me. And he does. My hair is almost always frizzy no matter what I do to it. He loves me anyway.
But when I happen to have an exceptionally good hair day and it's silky and shiny, he tells me that, too. If my jeans somehow make my flat butt look not so flat, he tells me. If my writing sucks, he tells me. And if I somehow hit the mark of excellence with a certain story or a description or a line of dialogue, he tells me.
What's the point? The point is that Joe is flesh and blood in my world. He's a real person. Sometimes with how much time we spend online, or just on the computer in general, writing, it's easy to forget how important the opinion of a living breathing human being is.
Every opinion is based on that person's own experiences, and when you know a bit about that person before hearing their opinion, one of two things can happen:
1) you realize the value of their opinion.
2) you realize they are full of it.
Much of the writing world hinges on personal opinion. Anyone who is active in the short story markets will tell you, the bulk of rejections come from the editor "just not liking it." Which is why form rejections are so prevalent. There is no solid reasoning behind the pass other than the story didn't jive with someone who read it, and that someone happened to be in charge. How do you explain that without unnecessarily hurting the writer's feelings? You don't. Form rejection.
The work of a writer is like any other artist -- you have to continually produce. This does not magically disappear once you break into publishing. Getting your work in print is not a shoe-in for later works. It helps, yes, but only in the sense that an agent or editor can see you have a "work history." Like anything else, if your last "job" in the field you're applying for was years ago, or your history is spotty and scattered, questioning brows will raise.
In publishing, the question is not only "what have you done for me lately?", it is also, even more so, "what can you do for me NOW?"
Regular self-checks are crucial to stay in the game. To stay ahead of the game. To stand out among the herd. To not give-in to self-doubt.
But that last one is tough. While you can look at your own work and clearly see whether or not your quality is improving over time, it can be difficult to focus on the facts, so to speak, when your current situation or recent events are creating a steamy fog.
You look in the mirror and see every rejection you've ever received as an insurmountable failure. Why bother writing another word? you ask yourself. This is a waste of time and effort. I would make more money doing [insert menial task here] for less than the minimum hourly wage.
That may be true, but you know, deep down, that you're a writer. It's time to step away from the mirror and the online community, and get a flesh and blood opinion of yourself.
Before I go any further, I must make this clear: I love the online writing community. They have helped me in ways I am eternally grateful for. Certain people I have contact with only online have been a pillar of support to me when things get really tough. My best critique partners are online -- I've never met them in person or even talked with them on the phone. And since I've only been published with a small press so far, the majority of my readers are online. I cannot discredit anything any one of these people has done for me.
But if I took those same words from someone I "know" online and put them into the mouth of someone I was talking to in person... wow, what a difference. It just feels more real. More credible.
Especially when you know this person is further along in the publishing game than you are.
Last night Joe and I met some local authors in person. Again, I must credit the online writing community for making this happen. I "met" about half these people online before finding out that a) they live in the same area as I do, and b) they meet for a book club discussion/ writers' discussion once a month.
I'm sure the first thing you're wondering is, OMG WHO WAS IT? I'm so horrible with names. I don't remember all the people I met, only the ones I already knew before I got there. If any of you were there last night and you see this post and I don't mention you, please shout it out in the comments so I can give you credit for the amazing discussion we had last night. Seriously, you all are awesome... I'm just so horrible at remembering names.
Here are the ones I know (huge apologies for whoever I forget):
Lisa and Laura Roecker, co-authors of The Liar Society, which is scheduled for release in March 2011.
I first "met" Lisa and Laura at WriteOnCon back in August, and have seen them at the monthly chats since then. Then I somehow found Lisa on twitter and as soon as she found out I live nearby, she invited me to their book club/writers' group. Which was awesome. But I'd actually already been invited, just the day before, by...
Scott Tracey, author of Witch Eyes, which is scheduled for release in September 2011.
I first "met" Scott at a #yalitchat on twitter. I think it was during last week's chat that he mentioned the writer's group in Cleveland, and then told me how great the group was, which included Lisa and Laura Roecker (mentioned above), and...
Leah Clifford, author of A Touch Mortal, which is scheduled for release in February 2011.
Before talking with Lisa and Scott, I'd actually never heard of Leah. My loss. She's an amazing writer and a deep thinker. I was glad to hear her thoughts on the book we'd read, and on her own publishing journey.
There were two picture book authors there as well, one who's book is scheduled for release early next year (Lindsey... something), and the other who's book has not yet sold (another L name... sorry, guys).
Wow. Just realized we almost all have L names. Haha. Okay, moving on...
What thrilled me the most about meeting these people in person was that they're all at different stages in the game. To hear their individual stories from their own mouths gave it a nuance that you can't perceive online through blog posts, interviews, and whatnot. I sat there engrossed by their experiences, soaking it all in, hoping some day I'd have a story of my own.
(Aside: But I also hope my story doesn't include the book cover horrors that Lisa and Laura have recently gone through. *hugsies* for you two.)
Then it was my turn. "Tell us a little about yourself, Lydia. What do you write?"
That's always the first question. Easily answered. Then they asked about the YA novel I've been querying. I spat out the gist of what the story is about, then we talked agents. And this is where I (finally!) get to the point of my post. (Let's call today Rambly Friday, shall we?)
I told them I'm rewriting some parts of the novel based on feedback I received from certain agents. Yes, plural, as in, more than one agent gave me specific feedback. In fact, of all the agents who requested the ms, I received more rejections with feedback than without. I thought this was normal, to the point of wondering why those one or two who didn't give feedback, didn't. I thought my writing must have been so horrible they couldn't muster a response other than a form rejection. I thought of giving up when I saw those FR's (yeah. sounds like effers). They made me think the agents who gave me feedback were "just being nice."
It kind of shocked the group that I'd actually received feedback from agents.
I think Scott's exact words were, "That's really rare. I got feedback from one agent. They don't usually take the time to do that." The rest of them nodded and agreed. Then someone asked, "Does [Awesome Agent X] want to see the revisions when you're done?"
To which I said, "Yes. In fact, I have a list of agents who want to see this again if I do any significant rewrites." More than one person replied, "Wow, that's really good." Someone else said, "You must have really impressed them." That wasn't the entire discussion (again, bad memory), but hearing these comments gave me a new reason to believe in my writing abilities.
I'd previously thought my novel must be total suckage to have not garnered me an offer yet. I haven't said that to anyone but my husband, but now you all know. Getting rejections, even with positive feedback, fogs up your mirror with self-doubt.
When you're stuck in this writing cave, your eyes start to play tricks on you. The tiniest of flaws becomes the scapegoat for everything negative you've experienced. Like when you can't get your hair to cooperate no matter what products you use, or how you style it... must be because you have the worst hair ever in the history of humanity. Might as well just shave your head, right?
Step away from the mirror and get another opinion on the matter. If you're lucky enough to have contact with other writers in person, don't take it for granted. Especially if these writers have already been down the road that is currently ahead of you. They are not just faces on a website with publishing stats. These are real people who have endured real struggles similar to yours. Embrace it. Learn from it. Apply it. Share it.
Have a great weekend,