Friday, June 6, 2008

Rejection is Inevitable; Humiliation is Optional

I was going to write a It's Friday; It's a Good Thing post, because it's been a while since I've done that and I have so many things I am grateful for this week; but life is taking me a different way today.

Last night I received the email no author wants to receive: the one from a fellow writer who's just received a rejection.

It's made me think a lot about this industry, and how public, even in our privacy, we fail. I haven't read of a single author (that wasn't already famous) that didn't get rejected at least a few times before they were first published. I'm sure there are some out there, but it isn't the norm. Even after publication, the information is floating around out there: before they succeeded they failed. In other words: someone didn't think their writing was good enough.

It's almost impossible to write without people knowing. It's not as though I introduce myself to people and say, "Hi, I'm Heidi. I'm an aspiring author." But my family knows. My friends know. Moms who ask why I disappear into the library ever day during preschool with my laptop know. And the inevitable question comes: When is your book coming out?

In the writing community it is even more personal. Have you sent queries out yet? Who did you send them to? Have you heard anything yet?

And, at some point, most of us are going to have to utter the depressing words: it was rejected.

It feels like humiliation. Even when my proud son declares to people that I am writing a book, and even when he knows I am rejected, he says, "Well, they probably got, like, 5000 queries this week and were in a bad mood. There are lots of others." I want to cringe, even though I realize, he's right. At least partly. There are lots of other agents. And better, there are lots of other stories in me waiting to be written, and maybe one of those will be the one to break onto the scene and pave the way for my first, less flashy but more substantial book.

When we post on a blog that we are writing, we inevitably have to write that we are querying. And then we have to post the outcome. Which isn't always pretty.

But why be ashamed? Why feel humiliated? When I started writing, and telling my kids what I was doing, I wanted to be an example to them. Follow your dreams, no matter how big, no matter how out of reach they seem. Do what you love. Don't be afraid that your dream is bigger than you.

So they know my dream, and they are watching. And now I have to do it gracefully. When they stumble trying to attempt something big, I am never ashamed. I am proud at the attempt, and I encourage them to keep at it until they succeed. If I act humiliated by my own failures, by the rejections that inevitably come, what am I teaching them?

For all the writers out there who dare to dream that their book might actually find a place on a bookstore shelf, who put themselves out on a line and tell the world, I am writing! I am submitting! You have guts. You should be darn proud of what you've done. You've done what most people say they want to do, but never get around to doing.

The rejections... well, they most likely will come. But feeling humiliated about admitting that? Well, that's something you can control.


  1. Oh Heidi. I love, love, love this post! I'd copy and paste about five different snippets, but heck I just love the whole thing!

    When I decided to "go public" on my (semi-anonymous) blog about my writing, it was a bit of a fright. Like, it's out there now. I can't hide all those rejections and pretend like it never happened. But, something else came about: I'm accountable. I've stated a goal, and some people know about it. I feel like this drives me to keep at it.

    You are so right that the first question is always, "When's your book coming out?" I used to bite down the irritation and say, "It doesn't go that fast... it's hard to explain how it works..." but now I just laugh. It's coming out when it's real darn good and ready to come out and not one minute sooner!

    In the meantime, I've been on the old horse twice today, in the sauna like heat, and managed to forget about the big yellow envelope.

    Then Monday... is a whole new day.

  2. Oh gosh, one more thing:

    "Humiliation is optional."


    We have so many choices in how we live and act. Those of us who are really serious about being published authors have to make a lot of these choices. I have to believe that it's worth it!

    Thanks again for this great post.

  3. This is a great post Heidi. In finishing up the book, I'll soon get to deal with the rejection aspect, and I"m bookmarking this to help me.

    As buddha said, it's not what you got, it's how you choose to take it.

    XO for the weekend, I'm back!!

  4. I have not stepped down this road yet, but I look forward to it now. I know I'll get rejected. I know there will be some who may not like what I write, but now, after reading a post like that, I may just have the courage to really do it.

    I always told my mom, brother and sister I was writing a novel. I wouldn't finish it, get sidetracking with life, and I feel like a failure.

    They know I am in a writing group. They know I am taking a class. They do not know I have actually started to write and I've debated on when I'm done with the book and ready to submit, should I tell them? Or should I just leave that alone, to save the humiliation of being rejected? Then I read this - "Humiliation is optional." As someone else said, genius. Thank you for the words of encouragement.

  5. Brittany,

    For me, when I didn't tell people I was writing, I had no accountability. I often didn't finish anything, and no one was the wiser. When I began the novel I recently finished, I told everyone. If I thought people were going to ask how it was going, I knew I'd have to have a good answer. It worked.

    The people I am really close to know the process (because I talk about it all the time). People who don't know think it's so easy to publish. All you do is write the book, right?

    But I know how hard it is. And I've found most people actually say, "Wow! You finished a book? I could never do that!"

    I am my own worst critic. I am the one who puts the most pressure on myself. And I am the one whose ego gets blasted when a rejection comes.

    But life goes on. And I love writing, so I keep doing it.

    I say tell everyone. And then do it. And if it never gets published, you can say, for the rest of your life, I wrote a book once. And that is something to be proud of!

  6. Heidi,

    Thanks. I don't think they would take me seriously for a while. My mother has always told me to pursue my writing and while I constantly wrote, I never was officially published. I have several flash fiction proses completed, a few poems that were published (but I think they published anyone who would submit one, so I don't count it. ;) ) a fan-fic story when I was in the 8th grade and a very short "novel" that is utter crap when I read it now. Like I said to you before, that is all dialogue, no narrative. Funny how we progress after experience.

    I have so many stories I want to write. I've always felt slightly insane - I have characters in my head, I'm always living scenarios out, jotting them down. I have total arcs done of character development. I really started to worry about myself when I would go through an experience and I would think of how my "characters" who were now my friends would react if they were in my shoes. I've never in my life admitted this to anyone. But the truth is, all day, everyday, I'm somehow writing in my head. Just now am I really applying myself to put it on paper.

    I'm like the little boy who cried wolf - I've stated, "I'm writing a book." and then nothing come of it, it will take a while for it to actually come to fruit for my loved ones.

    My grandmother who lives 4 hours away knows I write and she and my aunt have both asked about it. And one of the reasons I joined the "Formerly Lame Writing Group" was to be held accountable. Just like you asked, "When are you going to submit something?" Thanks again and another 1200 words written today. I feel good.

  7. Brittany -

    Well, you sound like me, and every writer I know. I write in my head all the time. My characters are real.I used to think I was really weird... I narrated life in my head. I made stories out of things that happened around me. Now I know I'm not alone!

    Tell people when you're ready. And if it isn't until you're finished, that's fine too. It's a very personal thing.

    1200 words... you should be leaping for joy! Congrats... and keep it up!