Oh, the agony. How is it possible that someone misses the vision of your truly brilliant work? I mean, really, if the two of you could just sit down and share a cookie it'd only be moments before they'd catch on to the amazingness you've created. Right?
But, in reality, rejection is part of this writing game. (I know, I know. I hate it too. Sniff.) Fortunately, I'm getting some practice with it early on in my writing career. Yes, I did say fortunately, because I (and Kelly Clarkson) believe that "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger". And more aware of your own writing weaknesses. Because weaknesses are there. And the sooner you acknowledge them, the sooner you'll crush them under your feet as you continue along your path to greatness.
To illustrate, allow me to share some feedback I received last month from a fellow author. We are publishing our novellas in an anthology collection with a handful of other authors, but that camaraderie didn't prevent her from telling me what she really thought. At all. Take a look and feel free to grab some tissues. It's a little rough.
The anthology stories are all contemporary romances and the plots all have something to do with a beach. Here's what she had to say about mine:
"I found it on the disgusting side. Both of them."
"I found her whiny and selfish throughout most of the manuscript. I wanted to slap her."
"I just wanted Jill to stop talking."
Okay. Ouch. But I get it. You don't love my characters. I can handle that. I'll be glad to take a sweep through the story and look for ways to make them into deeper, more likeable people. Can't hurt.
Oh. But this will...
"Internal dialog: Your manuscript is riddled with it, and I think 90% of it should be deleted. This is personal preference, but I find internal dialog to be a “weak” or “cheap” way of narrating the story. Basically, anyone can do it, and it makes it seem like you didn’t want to work hard enough to really ground me in what the character sees, feels, thinks, does, or is so you just threw in an internal thought."
Burn, right?! I've never met this woman in person and here she is tossing up a judgement about my work ethic based on what she admits is a personal preference. So not cool.
What's a writer to do?
Crank up the Jason Mraz, that's what. If you've not yet downloaded his "3 little things", I suggest you do. His is the best formula for dealing with a personal affront like the one I suffered.
There are three things I do when my life falls apart
Number one I cry my eyes out and dry up my heart
And cry I did, my friends. I'm human. It stung. I allowed myself a full twenty-four hours to feel good and sorry for myself after having been so brutally misunderstood.
Oh, the second thing I do is I close both of my eyes
And say my thank-yous to each and every moment of my life.
I go where I know the love is and let it fill me up inside
Gathering new strength from sorrow,
I’m glad to be alive.
I retreated to positive reviews of my work. I chatted with friends and family who believe in me. I revisited my reasons for wanting to write. I practiced gratitude for all that I've experienced as a writer and I looked ahead to conferences and retreats I'm soon to attend. Then, I put on my grown-up glasses and re-read her biting comments to see if anything she said might actually improve my plot. And you know what? I found a few things. I'm actually excited to revise because I've got a fun, new twist to introduce. Score!
The third thing that I do now when my world caves in,
is I pause, I take a breath, and bow and I let that chapter end.
I design my future bright not by where my life has been.
And I try, try, try, try, try again.
I'll admit, I unfriended this person of Facebook. I know, it may seem silly - but I'm proud of myself for setting boundaries with someone who isn't really interested in supporting me. At least not in a way that feels supportive to me. We tried working together. Our styles didn't mesh. There's no law saying we have to continue collaborating. And let me be clear, I'm actually okay with her not liking my plot and hating my characters and all of that. My issue is that, to me, her feedback felt unkind. I prefer to work with critiquers who leave me feeling inspired and excited about the direction my work is taking - even, no especially, when they suggest changes. This woman's feedback left me scraping together any resolve to continue my writing. And I don't need that.
Writing is a tough, very personal journey. So when you're rejected (and you will be), stay true to your dream, find strength in your loved ones and resolve to stay objective about your material. There is something to be learned from every perspective - even the mean ones.