As I write this post, EBay has sixty active listings for “full suit of armor.”
Some are shiny silver, others are bronze. Some have gaudy feathers on the helmet, others offer chain mail accents. A few promise a complimentary battle axe. The prices range from $10-$9,650, and twenty listings offer free shipping.
But as long as mine is a full suit of armor, a head-to-toe get-up that will protect my tender heart, my fragile ego, my flighty muse from all writerly rejection, I’ll be a happy customer.
So what size armor am I? If it’s too big or too small, will a tailor be able to alter the suit to fit my 5’4”, short-waisted self? Oh, and I am prone to heat rash . . . and armor, I assume, lacks the breathability of cotton.
Shoot. I just did some research and learned that even chain mail, which would provide a bit more ventilation on warm summer days, is heavy. Clangy too. How can I possibly sneak up on people when I’m so clangy? Will librarians allow me to enter the library with such a noisy ensemble? Shhhh! They will say. SHHHH, Knight-Writer!
Still, I desperately want to protect my sensitive self from the many forms of rejection that are hurled at me, sometimes when I am prepared, and other times, when I have left my shield and safety goggles at home, right there on the counter beside my grocery list and the overdue library books.
Make no mistake; we writers will be rejected. Agents will not want to represent our work. Editors will not want to purchase our manuscript. Our sincere blog posts will be mocked. We will get one-star ratings on Amazon and Good Reads.
We writers will be rejected in productive ways (“I adored your protagonist, but the second half of the story felt predictable, even when she punched the priest, then ran off with the Best Man. “) and unproductive ways, (“Your book sucked. I don’t know how it got published. It was worse than barf.”)
In this era of the Internet, unproductive feedback abounds. Jaron Lanier, author of You Are Not a Gadget, explains that the anonymity we find on the Web can too easily turn people into trolls, “anonymous [people] who [are] abusive in an online environment.”
Even when a reader or critic makes his identity known, he can still hide in the internet’s vast ethersphere, saying whatever he wants in whatever unproductive language he chooses.
And it will hurt. We writers tend to have an abundance of sensors and feelers. Our porous skin absorbs everything. Our brains are wrapped in fly paper. Everything—every review or comment or rejection—sticks.
So what do we do?
1. We can stop writing.
2. We can write in an overly-safe way about overly-safe topics.
3. We can keep writing what we are meant to write, knowing with 100% certainty that we will receive hurtful feedback.
Let’s just cross off Choice #1 right now. It’s a stupid choice. You love to write, and you need to write. Cross it off.
While you’re at it, cross off Choice #2. My parents didn’t raise a wussy. Neither did yours. Plus, safe writing is so boring, and you are not boring.
So let’s see what’s behind door #3.
Yes, the idea of rejection is scary; the reality of rejection is painful. That pain will make us wonder why on earth we choose to write, why we choose to birth words, then make them public.
But Choices #1 and #2 are unacceptable, and armor is pricey and likely creates chafing and heat rash and noise.
So how to stay in the game when readers, agents and editors are rejecting us?
I know I need three things.
My tribe consists of WU, my writing partners, my agent, my family, and my friend, Schmidtie, who has zero background as a fiction writer but has a PhD in cheering for Team Sarah. Schmidties and dear writing partners are rare and precious, and you cannot get them on EBay. Sorry.
My tribe mates who are authors share their empathy; they have walked a mile in my woe-is-I, rejected moccasins. My tribe makes me laugh when laughter is the best alternative. My tribe also reminds me that in certain situations, the reviewer/commenter/agent/editor is clearly crazy/ lonely/just jealous. A good tribe knows what I need, when I need it.
But I can’t rely only on my tribe. I have to sit my own tokus in the chair and tell my own story. No tribe can do that for me.
Beyond my priceless tribe, I also need to remember the goal.
Of course I want my novels to be published. I want to make money. But those are two things over which I have very little control. Focusing my goal on my personal improvement and the pride I feel in the finished product? That I have 100% control over. That is unthwartable. And speaking of unthwartable . . .
While it would be hysterical to show up at a café clad in full armor, holding my laptop, and order a triple no foam skim vanilla latte, our armor must be internal. It needs to come from the knowledge that we are supposed to be writing, that we are supposed to be putting our work into the hands of readers and agents and editors and blog readers.
It takes an enormous amount of faith to believe that and to keep believing that, especially as we are being rejected or mocked or given unproductive reviews.
We all must have some stubborn seed of faith in our writer’s gut. Why or how it got there may not make sense, but we need to know it is there, especially on those days when the feedback of others seems especially unsupportive.
I find my faith in my Faith, but find yours wherever you want. And make sure it’s set on stone rather than sand.
Great! Then everything will be fine?
No. Arming (and armoring) ourselves with Tribe, Goal and Faith does not make rejection feel good. But we’re not going to hide in metal because we fear rejection. Why?
Because we are brave.
Because we are not wussies.
Because we have a faith and a goal and a tribe who, when necessary, will spray our backs with Teflon.
And, because we write stories that we want to share with an audience wider than our immediate family and our cat.
What about you? How do you protect yourself from the myriad forms of rejection?
Do you, for example, go the route of Yuvi Zalkow (read his amazing, beautiful book!) who writes without pants? That’s exposure therapy in the most literal sense; perhaps if Yuvi can get used to the feeling of Being Exposed while writing his novels, he can get comfortable with Feeling Exposed when others are reading and reviewing his novels.
What is your equally brilliant coping strategy? What do you keep in your writer’s box of dress-ups that guards your confidence? How did you rebound after a particularly painful bit of feedback? You can’t purchase a tribe or a goal or a faith on Amazon; where did you find yours?
Photo courtesy of Flickr’s bugmonkey.