If you’ve kept up on this blog, you know that I am the Queen of positive thinking, being confident in your work and in yourself, pushing through the yuck and believing that good things will happen. I do my best to live life with the attitudes I preach on here, though there are definitely days (weeks, months) when I struggle to follow my own advice.
A few posts ago I talked about how a friend told me that she approaches every interaction assuming people like her, and how it revolutionized the way I interact with people, both those I’ve known for a long time and those I’m meeting for the first time. Last week I had several discussions with different people about the idea of feeling worthy. How often in my life have I approached people and situations with the “one-down” attitude? Way too often. “I’m not cool enough to talk to that person.” “I don’t know enough to give advice on that topic.” “I’m not pretty enough to talk to that guy.” “I’m not talented enough to put myself or my work out there.” “I’m not ENOUGH.” “I don’t DESERVE.” Ugh.
The sermon yesterday was also about being worthy, about accepting that because we are created by God, we ARE worthy. That we need to OWN our fierceness, and live it out in everything we do. We’re not supposed to be meek, hanging in the background (hello, my life).
To tip this to the writing side of things, one of my favorite things I’ve ever read is when Janet Reid posted that writers are not beggars at the banquet of publishing. We have all done the work, done something only a small percentage of people ever do, and we deserve to have our work seen and acknowledged. Though it can often seem like we’re approaching agents and editors slowly, not making eye contact, holding out the thing we made, praying they will deign to acknowledge our existence, we should be approaching them as equals, realizing we are both looking for opportunities to connect with a project that speaks to us, and to partner with someone to make it an even better project.
(Disclaimer: During one of my conversations on this, I used the term “deserve,” and a friend had an issue with it. Keep in mind that confidence is important, but swinging too far the other way is also dangerous. Treating others as if it is a privilege to get to talk to you or work with you can be even more off-putting than taking that one-down stance. So yes, we all deserve equal opportunities and equal standing, but not the right to push others down in pursuit of that “equality.”)
I’m almost 500 words into this post and I haven’t even gotten to my point yet. I need a blog post editor.
So what happens when we’ve done everything right, approached someone with confidence, owned our weirdness, put ourselves and/or our work out there…and nothing happens?
I’ve made it a goal to try to talk to one new person at church each week, and also touch base with people I’ve talked to before. I’ve made the mistake in the past of slipping in and out of church like a ghost, not connecting, not becoming a part of anything. I am determined not to do that this time. I’ve always been the type to wait for others to approach me, but that just doesn’t happen as much as I’d like it to. So I’m trying to be brave, hop out of my comfort zone, and remember that I’m great and people like me. But what happens when I approach someone and they are less than thrilled to talk to me? When, for whatever reason, they don’t see how delightful I am? (This has happened a couple times, and for a socially awkward person like myself, there’s no good escape from the situation.)
Writers are so super aware of rejection. We’ve all experienced it to varying degrees. We have this super amazing project, and we KNOW it’s super amazing, and yet the rejections flood in. We’re confident, we put ourselves out there, and no one can quite see the potential we know is there. Or we send a new piece to a beta reader and the response is meh. Or we have a book out in the world (huzzah!) and a bad review comes in. What then? Confidence and believing in yourself isn’t a guarantee of anything. It’s a good way to live your life, much happier than being negative all the time, but often the more confidence we have, the more we put ourselves out there, and the more we end up rejected or brushed off.
Sigh. Uplifting, yeah?
So here is just a small list of things that I do (or try to do) when faced with these situations in life and in writing.
STOP! Take a moment before reacting. Maybe more than just a moment. Step back from the situation. Go to your happy place. Call a friend. Watch trashy TV. Disappear into a book. Get a pedicure. BREATHE. Distance is important for mental health in the face of rejection.
ALLOW yourself to feel whatever it is you feel. If it’s sadness, that’s okay. Anger? Fine too. Disappointment? Absolutely. Most likely it’ll be a whole mix and mess of emotions. (Also a good reason to get some distance and sort that ish out.) It’s okay to wallow a little. A LITTLE. Eat some chips. Then take a deep breath, close that bag (or throw it away because it’s empty), and make your next move.
Have your affirmations ready. This may be a total therapist thing, but sometimes I need reminding of why I’m so awesome, and having that stockpile ready is important, since if I’m in the midst of a rejection haze, I might have a difficult time coming up with those affirmations. Focus on the many amazing accomplishments you have, the friends and family who love you, the unique and fabulous things that make you YOU. If you can’t do this for yourself, have some people around you who can. I used to force my friends in college to do affirmation circles when one of them would be down on themselves. They hated them but also secretly loved them. Who doesn’t like hearing positive things that others see in us?
Just keep swimming. If it’s a person who isn’t treating you the way you deserve, move on to someone who will. Of course, this depends on the relationship. A new acquaintance is easier to replace than a longtime friend or family member or spouse. Evaluate each relationship and adjust as needed. This is another time when calling in a trusted friend is smart. If your writing isn’t getting the love it should, give other people a crack at it, or move on to another project.
Be willing to admit what you’re doing, and what’s in your control. Have you been acting like a creepy stalker? Maybe chill out a bit. Are there things you can change in your writing? Things people are pointing out consistently that you could work on? Accept that criticism and find a way to apply it that feels right. Critiques are so hard sometimes, but it’s amazing what can come out of a constructive critique. (Blog post on critiquing and accepting criticism coming soon. Be excited.)
Let one person’s opinion dictate what you think about yourself and/or your work. Not everyone is going to like you or your work. I mean, I may have mentioned before how charming and DELIGHTFUL I am, but plenty of people have zero interest in hanging out with me. (Baffling, I know.) Plenty of people, agents, editors, even my grandma, read my book and weren’t terribly impressed. And when it comes out next year, there will be many more that read it and think it’s terrible. That doesn’t mean it is. It means it’s subjective, and focusing on the people who say positive things is a much better use of my time and energy.
Make any rash decisions in the middle of your wallowing or based on your initial reaction. Just because one person is indifferent to you doesn’t mean you should stop trying to make friends. Just because one relationship ends doesn’t mean you should shut yourself off the the possibility of a new one. Just because your manuscript is rejected a few (dozen) times doesn’t mean you should quit writing and join the circus. Again, DISTANCE and TRUSTED FRIENDS are super helpful in decision-making.
Assume that the way it is now is how it will always be. Things can change in a heartbeat. That person you only sort of know could become your closest confidante. That agent you queried on a whim could be your perfect match. I am living proof that things can happen quickly, and many times when you least expect them to happen. (Remind me to tell you about how I was considering a query break just a couple weeks before my first offer of representation.)
Sorry, didn’t know how to transition to the ending here. I’m sure there are many more DOs and DON’Ts, but this is quite long enough. If you have others, add them in the comments. This is a constant battle for me, trying to maintain perspective in the midst of rejection. But the more I practice, the better I get, and the less bags of chips I go through 😉
As always, keep going. Be you. Embrace the weird. Know you are amazing. Own it.