Thursday, July 8, 2010

Rejection Is Only The First Step

Cheesy right?  The whole keep writing, it will happen one day schpiel.  Receiving a rejection letter is much like falling victim to a bad hair cut, a phenomenon that forces everyone to suddenly see the glass as half full and mutter lines like "Nah, it looks fine.  Besides, it's hair.  It will grow back."

It could grow back.  It could also all fall out.  But fortunately, unlike hair, writing doesn't have a mind of its own.  We're able to manipulate words and phrases to our liking and to the liking of others.  Criticism turns catalyst when we decide to own our literary shortcomings and create something worth reading, something of which we're actually proud.

Rejection is only the first step.

I was fortunate enough to place in the top 250 of Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award contest this year, a feat for which I developed an arthritic pain in my wrist from patting myself on the back so hard, that is until the day I received Publisher Weekly's review of my manuscript.  I've only provided you a short snippet for fear of rendering you catatonic.
There are only so many bad metaphors...and pages of self-analysis one can read before it feels like slogging through the transcript of her never-ending (and going nowhere) therapy session.
The " her" they were referring to is my main character although they might as well have been referring to me.  Ericka is a horrible writer and her work is as grungy and threadbare as the black yoga pants she continuously wears.  

I'm not going to lie.  It hurt like hell to know that not everyone found my writing to be as charming and enrapturing as my parents do.  Don't get me wrong, I've had plenty of rejection letters from agents and small publishing houses in the past.  But the majority of those letters were friendly and often played to my strong points.  My parents' bribes were obviously a sound investment.

Publisher Weekly's review, however, found very little to praise although they did throw me a "Potentially interesting plotlines hint at a promising story."  At least I can hint with the best of them.

So yeah, it was a pretty brutal beating, but you know what?  They're absolutely right.  And you know what else?  I'm glad they said it because I was having the hardest time admitting it myself.

I'm now working on my third manuscript.  I've decided to stop hinting and actually flesh out a solid story line.  I've also decided to ice my wrist and stop patting myself on the back.  Writing is work, it's a messy relationship between you and the page and if you're willing to let yourself get comfortable and to burn the rejection letter without reading it first, then there's no point in continuing the journey.

But look at it this way: even if it gets too hard to be honest with yourself and to test your creative limits, you can always treat yourself to highlights.

How have you dealt with rejection?


  1. Sometimes you have to get ripped to shreds in order to do your best work. Doesn't make it sting less, though.

  2. true amber, but it's given the swift kick i needed!

  3. Breakthrough Novel Award? That's awesome!

    It's never fun to get criticism on something you've poured your heart into. Even in advertising (my day job) I still sometimes have a pity party when someone rips apart my radio script or headline. Because clearly, everything I write is pure comedy brilliance.

    I like to think it's a process and we keep evolving and getting better at the craft of writing. And even your voice and style can change over time. Kind of like Madonna.

    Lache pas la patate! (That's French for, I forget what, something about a potato, but it means don't give up!)

  4. can you burn the rejection letter AFTER you read it?

  5. lindsay - i am like madonna. :) you're absolutely right though, a person's writing does change and it's important to embrace that process.

    jess - absolutely jess. it's in the rule book.

  6. Great post, Ericka! I posted the link to this on my FB--writers need encouragement at all times! Thank you!
    btw--thank you for following my blog! :)

  7. I simply put the cauldron on and open my ... oops, sorry, you were serious... if it's honest rejection (and the heart recognizes honest rejection, even if the brain denies it), you'll actually improve, although it doesn't hurt to have a screaming room available... I used to give seminars that ended with everyone critiquing me, the small group leaders, the young people, and their parents... made for some tough homework but refined the content over the months... it hurt alot (because all my words are golden, don't you know) but it really is necessary... we become too close to our work...

    My solution was to get NaturallySpeaking, the voice dictation software... by actually hearing what you're writing, you pick up errors and problems you easily miss by just typing, alone... you might want to try it... I can't imagine writing without it, now...

    Twitter: SolarChief

  8. Interesting about hearing yourself. I always read my stuff aloud. Helps with seeing how the flow goes, etc. Great tip!

  9. thank you elizabeth! very kind of you!

    "we become too close to our work... " - very true sharlene!

    and i do the same as cheryl - i read my work out loud because i think there's something about cadence even when it comes to prose that's important. that program sounds interesting. i'll need to look into it!

  10. Congratulations on the Amazon award and for being published in the first place. I've been trying to get my husband's stories published for years and can relate to the rejection and frustration of that process. I never even thought so far as to consider facing the critics. Sheesh. They really can be brutal. It's like getting into that mirrored box in "What Not to Wear". Good for you for taking it all with a grain of salt and pressing on with your talent as a writer. I'm glad I stopped by from SITS today. I always like to pay a visit to the person who comments just above me. Warmest wishes and continued success, Jenn

  11. thank you jenn! and i love the reference to the "what not to wear" mirrored box because writing is like living in that box. you're constantly sharing a piece of yourself and sit waiting for someone to tell you your thighs look like a pair of sausages in capris pants. it does take tough skin!! hope you stick around! :)

  12. One writer I have connected with told me to send two new queries out for every rejection I receive. ASAP. I thought that was great advice, and have followed it. So, needless to say I have a LOT of queries out there. LOL

    Suffice it to say I can relate. Hang in there and keep at it! Never give up!

  13. I really enjoyed reading this post. It's wonderful that you are writing and sending your work out. I don't know if the sting of rejection ever gets easier. The best we all can do is keep slogging along, without giving too much credit to the critics.

  14. It's been so long since I've sent anything out but somewhere I've saved all my old rejection letters from short story submissions, and my first attempt at getting into a masters program. I think rejection is part of the game and once you get past the initial slap in the face it can help you focus on perfecting your craft. I say that as I let the pages of my novel sit untouched. But tomorrow I'm going to pick it up. Or the next day. I expect that when I do I'll face more rejection. And that's okay.

  15. Elizabeth - that's a great thought, to send out two new queries for each rejection.

    Mrs. Mayhem - we have to take what we find constructive - and ignore the rest!

    Michele - The "next day" is today! Keep going!!!

  16. mrs.mayhem -thank you, you are very right. i just remind myself of all the rejection letters our favorite authors have received!

    michele - the initial slap is the hardest! if you can make it through that then chances our you can make it through the rest of them!

  17. When I was in college I was actually in classes where all we did was critique each others work. I hated the way my stuff was always picked apart. Then when I went home to revise all of those comments made my stuff better. Looking back on it, I realize that I was lucky enough to get critique, that's the only way to really improve, and in the end it's all about improving. Improving moves you forward.

  18. That must've been tough for you. But it sounds like it actually helped you, so that's a good thing!

  19. I am horrible with rejection - seriously horrible. When I realize someone doesn't think I'm as fabulous as I actually am, I want to curl up in a ball and hide. But you? You take it as a reason to do better. To try harder.

    Yep. I officially need to be more like you when I grow up!

  20. group critiques in college were always hard to take candice so i feel ya!

    haha thanks SIF. let me know if you ever do grow up to be me. i'll send you my meds. :)

  21. Kudos to you for putting yourself out there and getting that rejection letter! So many people say they'll write a book and many more think if they crank out some pages they'll instantly be on the best seller list. You've accomplished someting many set out to do and never will.

    The fact is that writing and being published is not only about hard work and YES, talent - but it's about putting yourself out there, getting those badges of honor we call rejections and learning from them to become stronger writers.

    Keep moving forward, learn your craft and find yourself a good crit group to help you wade though the plot, they'll be shoulders to cry on and will be share your success!

    (And don't forget just because PW didn't like it - doesn't mean someone else won't absolutely love it - this business is so subjective it will make you head spin!)

    Best of luck.

  22. thank you for your kind words debora! honestly, it's encouragement like yours that makes me want to keep going!


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