How to Deal with Rejection: Make Your Story Better
In front of me, there is a stack of papers. Some are handwritten. Some are typed. Some are scribbled bits of creation, rendered on cocktail napkins. Next to that, there is a box of matches.
Okay, I’m kidding about all that. But I am grappling with the urge to burn everything I’ve written recently. This is what I like to call The Doubt Plague. It sneaks up on an author when he/she is having a bad day, or bad couple of days. It is usually preceded by a large span of time in which writing is difficult, like performing dental surgery with a pair of tweezers. On yourself.
There are probably chocolate wrappers somewhere. Maybe an empty wine bottle. Perhaps a baking frenzy occurred. (I have been known to go on a baking bender when I’m really upset. At least it’s constructive…)
Every writer has bad days. Every writer has endured The Doubt Plague – the nagging that thought your writing is crap, that it will never be valued, and that you might as well give up. Like the snake in the Garden of Eden, it’s just a whisper. But that’s enough to kick you in the ass, when you’re already a bit unsteady.
No one, no matter what the job is, is confident all the time. It’s not humanly possible. And if it is, please don’t tell me. Okay? Okay.
I had a friend who was an English professor. He was a smart guy and a great teacher. He always went the extra mile for his students. In a series of interesting events, I ended up talking with the head of the college where he taught. The president had nothing but amazing things to say about my friend. The one that stood out the most is this:
Whenever his students don’t perform as well as he’d hope, he does one thing that sets him apart. He questions himself. He tries to figure out where he can improve so that they can do better. That is what makes him so good at what he does. He doesn’t blame the students. He looks inward and tries to figure out where he went wrong in teaching them.
And the president was right. My friend always internalized. He wanted to do his job better.
The same thing goes for writing. If a story is rejected, or it doesn’t quite work, this is a huge disappointment. It’s a kick to the stomach, sure. But my immediate reaction to wonder where the hell it went wrong. I want to rip it apart, look at the pieces, and find the one that’s rusted.
A rejection doesn’t signify a lack of talent. It indicates that something might be a bit off. Something, perhaps, doesn’t quite perform up to standards to the story Awesome.
Get back to basics – look at the story. That’s where answer lies. Not lurking in your self-doubt. Not in the middle of a candy bar. And, as far as I can tell, not at the bottom of a coffee cup. Although…I’ll keep looking, thank you.
Like my friend, figure out what went wrong. Examine the words on the page. They hold every answer you didn’t know you needed.