In light of all the publicity regarding the whackaloon wannabe writer who attacked the literary agent who rejected his work, I thought I’d offer my own response in the form of how I react to rejection.
You see, six months ago, I made the decision to apply to a writing residency program—the Television Writers Program sponsored by the National Hispanic Media Coalition. Five weeks in Los Angeles, five days a week spent in the company of other writers, creating a product. It sounded fun. I mean, five weeks in LA, for one. I have a ton of friends in Los Angeles and the opportunity to see them on something of a regular basis was super tempting. Not to mention, the opportunity to be on my own for a bit. I’ve never, in my life, lived on my own. Went from Mom’s house to dorm, to shared apartments and houses, to living with the boyfriend who became the husband. The idea of flying solo for a month? Yeah… love the husband and the family dearly, but I can’t deny that idea held its own appeal.
Then there was the basis of the program itself— the opportunity to learn to write for television—that was pretty attractive. You see, it was television that drew me back into writing in the first place—that started me on my path to becoming a published author. (Those of you who know me well, know it was my love for the crazy talented writers Joss Whedon employed on Buffy & Angel that made me think, “Hey, I can tell stories like that.”) Of course, I very quickly discovered that I’m a wordy bitch and I like narrative and internal character motivation a hell of a lot and all of that adds up to “Write novels, dummy!” So I did. And I’m pretty damned good at it, even if my sales haven’t exactly reflected that. At any rate, I applied to this program not so much because I want to be a television writer, although God knows, I wouldn’t say no to an interesting opportunity to write for pay. It’s what I am, after all, and let’s face it, I’m spectacularly unqualified for almost anything else, but more than anything else, though, I wanted something new. New skills, new tools to add to the arsenal. I wanted something that would get me excited about writing again. To jolt my ass out of the Pit of Suckagetude in which I’ve found myself mired lately (which is a post for another day).
The application was pretty rigorous and involved, requiring multiple forms and notarized releases and writing examples (I sent in When the Stars Go Blue figuring it for a great example, given it’s an adaptation) and a lot of attention to detail. Good thing I’m a Virgo, yeah? The application window was ridiculously broad, stretching from mid-March to mid-August; being me, my application was posted by early April. Participants would be announced September 17th. So I sat back and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Kept fairly quiet about it, because I didn’t want to jinx it. I also didn’t want to face a lot of “Why would you want to do that?” inquiries, and frankly, I didn’t want to hear that maybe I was out of my gourd crazy for doing this. (I’ve had that happen before—I’ve sent in proposals and been immediately hit with “Why on earth did you send in that idea?” which results in the Doubt Monsters breaking into a spirited rendition of Numfar’s Dance of Kill Your Joy. Did. Not. Want.)
I just wanted to live on quiet hope and also not get anyone’s expectations up too high on my behalf, lest it get my expectations up too high. Expect nothing, regret nothing, right? I had run the suggestion past my writer’s group and a few other close friends whose opinions I trust, and as time went on, I let a few people know that I had applied for a writing residency program, but no details beyond that.
Anyhow, due to a large number of applicants, they posted a message that the announcement would be postponed until the 18th.
Which came and went without word. (Damned watched email never boils or summat like that.)
Finally, this morning (the 19th, Talk Like a Pirate Day, arrrggghhh), I sent an email to the contact liaison. Within an hour I’d heard back. I hadn’t made the cut.
I wanted to be sanguine about this. I knew it was a longshot going in for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was my utter inexperience with the medium. God knows, I’ve dealt with a lot of rejection in the past thirteen years. Certainly a hell of a lot more rejection has come my way than praise. I know how to handle it. I know it’s not personal. It’s not an indictment on me as a human being.
Didn’t stop me from crying. Rather a lot, as a matter of fact.
Not the throw-myself-on-the-ground-pound-my-heels-on-the-floor-scream-and-rant tantrum sort of crying, mind. While there are times I wish I could, simple fact is, I suck at that. In fact, I abhor most self-pity, at least where I’m concerned. I’m remarkably forgiving of anyone else’s need for pity/support, self or otherwise, for myself, I can’t fathom it. The husband puts it more bluntly—he says I suck at wallowing.
He’s… not wrong.
But this one has broken me a bit more than usual. I don’t know… I generally don’t allow myself to dream outside of the confines of my own stories. For my characters, I allow my imagination to take flight — no dream is too grand or goal too unrealistic or impossible to achieve. Dreaming for myself, on the other hand? I’m about as good at that as wallowing. For me, it’s never been about the seven-figure contracts or #1 Bestseller status, although I certainly wouldn’t say no to either. I’m a pragmatist—not a Puritan— fer chrissakes. No, all I’ve ever wanted is a nice, steady career as a writer. Not an easy task, especially in this day and age, but certainly not grandiose.
But this program… yeah. I let myself dream. And maybe that’s why it hit harder than it might have otherwise.
Because I’m a sucker for punishment, I pinged my agent to ask about the status of another project that was out on an exclusive submission.
Yeah. Another rejection.
Oddly, this one left me more meh than anything else. It’s part of the game, right? The rejection letter was head-scratching in that way that rejection letters are and again, allowed me to be meh about the rejection on the whole. I mean, I don’t like it. I’m not a masochist (at least, not any more than anyone else in publishing), but it’s hardly devastating. I believe in my project. I know it’s a really fucking good concept and with the insight and advice I’ve received from the beta readers, I’ve certainly made it a stronger project than it was at the outset. Like so much else, it’s the sort of thing that requires the Right Person see it and I have to believe the Right Person is out there somewhere.
More than anything, though, it was something my agent said in her email to me that allowed me to put everything into perspective:
I think that sometimes we’re denied an opportunity to explore something to show us how much we actually value it, and that it goes beyond curiosity. Maybe that sounds trite but if I know anything about you, it’s that if you’re passionate about something you really go for it.
Now mind you, she said this with respect to the Writing Program rejection, but the end result was it immediately sharpened my focus and strengthened my resolve with respect to…
Just writing.Telling the stories I love—the stories that need to get out or else they’ll drive me crazy(er).
It’s what I do. I really, really fucking love what I do. Not only do I not want to do anything else, I simply can’t imagine doing anything else.
Something like ten years ago, after I’d started sending out queries and receiving rejections, but before I’d been published, I happened to stumble across an interview with actor Timothy Omundson where he spoke about pursing a career in the creative arts and some of what he said resonated with me—even then—to the point that I printed a pair of the more relevant quotes out and have kept them on my desk ever since.
One of those quotes is especially relevant today:
I really, really love what I do and for me, this work… there isn’t anything else. I’ve always been really driven. I think that is the most important aspect of my success… it comes down to how much I like it. I really think it has to be one of those things where doing it is the only option.
If you can do anything else, I’ve always thought you should go do it because this is potentially too hard a life.
No kidding. Today’s definitely one of those days where I idly wonder if it’s too late to get an accounting degree, never mind that no one wants anyone with my math skills balancing their books—trust me. But after the tears dry and the inevitable trauma of “They hated my baby!” passes, all I’m left with is a sense of resolve (amidst the “You really are a sick glutton for punishment you crazy lady,” feelings).
I write. I’m pretty fucking good at it.
And I’ve got a couple of damned interesting stories to get back to. Anyone in publishing interested, give me or my agent a call.
I’ll be ready.