I frequently see rants posted online by aspiring writers, bemoaning the latest rejections they’ve received. You’ve probably seen this sort of thing: a furious Facebooker or a tormented Twitterer, telling the world “I’m taking the day off to mope,” or “I’m basically worthless for a day or two after I get one of these,” or “I need to give myself a day to whine and moan and eat unhealthy food and drink too much.”
The common theme I keep seeing is that in response to each rejection, the writer feels the need to stop everything and mope.
Let me put this out there right up front: I’m anti-moping. Not because I’m an unsympathetic poopyhead. And certainly not because I’m opposed to eating unhealthy food and drinking too much. But because I firmly believe there’s a better way to react, which I’ll explore in this post.
First, let’s think about the comments I cited, and do some math. If you get rejected 50 times – not at all an unlikely scenario – and you take one day to mope after each rejection, you’re essentially spending almost two months moping and pouting. And if you’re on the two-day moping plan, you’re taking more than three months off to wail and gnash your teeth – basically a summer vacation in Hell.
I submit that this is an unacceptable – and indefensible – waste of time, which gets you no closer to achieving your goals. Plus, all that teeth-gnashing is murder on your molars.
Seriously, we’re talking about entire months you could be spending writing, or salsa dancing, or solving world hunger. But when I suggest this to a moping rejectee, I am usually rebuked, and am told that they need that self-hosted pity party so they can recover and regroup; that they need to wallow for a while before getting back behind the keyboard; that to ignore this need would not be true to their sensitive artistic souls.
Sorry, but I’m not buying it. I firmly believe wallowing is a voluntary activity, not a need. And if you feel otherwise, I ask that you try questioning that “need,” by doing an experiment: try skipping that phase entirely the next time you get rejected, and see what happens. If that sounds too extreme, perhaps the following rule might help:
Lauren’s five-minute rule
The talented and extremely prolific author Lauren Baratz-Logsted gave a great keynote speech at this year’s Backspace Writers Conference in Manhattan last month, offering many positive and helpful insights. One that really hit home for me was her statement that she lived by the “Five-Minute Rule,” which meant that whatever happened to her in her publishing journey – whether it was bad or good – she would only give it five minutes of attention before she got back to what was really important to her: writing. (This could help explain how she’s already written twenty-something books, and probably completed another one in the time it took me to write this post.)
I’m mostly on board with my friend Lauren’s approach, although being a glass-half-full kind of guy, I’d probably be inclined to allocate an even larger segment of time to celebrating the positive milestones. After all, how much celebratory Scotch can you drink if you’re only allowed five minutes? But I strongly agree that five minutes is more than enough time to dwell on whatever literary hurdles and setbacks you encounter. After that, it’s time to move on, and get back to work.
That’s MISTER Poopyhead to you
I’ve made similar recommendations to writers over the years, and frankly the response has often been less than enthusiastic. It has been suggested that I am a big mean poopyhead, an unfeeling brute, and that I’m repressing emotions that need to be released. (And those were the nicely worded responses. Other less diplomatic suggestions would require me to perform several acts that I’m pretty sure are anatomically impossible.)
I really don’t think I’m being overly repressive. I’m an emotional and sensitive guy – trust me, I can be moved to tears with embarrassing ease. But I submit that we DO have some choice in the energy we devote to our emotions. For example, after reading CNN.com for five minutes, I could easily choose to be sad all day – hell, all year. Face it: there’s no shortage of things to be sad about.
But I choose not to.
Not because of my overarching belief in humanity’s ability to rise above, or some other highfalutin idealism. But because it’s simply a waste of my life to spend too much time voluntarily being sad, so instead I choose to spend my time doing other stuff. And you can do the same, by simply checking that agent off your list, and moving on.
I’m not alone in thinking this. A.S. King, another extremely creative and prolific author I’m fortunate enough to be buddies with, agrees that we have a choice in how we react to rejection. She also pointed out the harsh reality that those rejections never stop – not even after you get an agent, or even after you get a publisher. She summed it up like this:
The only control you have over rejection is how you approach it.”
Don’t get me wrong. Not for an instant am I saying you should never be sad or disappointed. I’m just suggesting – along with other authors I respect – that we have some control over how much time and energy we choose to focus on that sadness or disappointment. And I believe we have more control than most of us probably give ourselves credit for.
I think another key is to not get so emotionally invested in the query process. After all, you’re looking for a business partner, not a prom date. So I suggest that you put your emotion into your writing, and put your brain into your querying. When you stop taking it so personally, it really does get easier.
Try it. You’ll like it.
Indulge me, please. Next time you get a rejection, take a look at it, process what its impact is, see if there are any editorial insights to be gleaned, and then do something else. Immediately. Or at least after no more than five minutes.
Reality check: It’s probably not going to work the first time you try it. Why? Because it’s a new and foreign behavior. Like putting on rollerblades for the first time, or trying to get a decent sounding note out of a trumpet. It takes practice before this will begin to feel natural. But hey, that’s one upside of this business: it will give you PLENTY of practice in handling rejection.
My first few rejections stung like crazy, believe me. But I quickly realized that it wouldn’t be practical to let every single one slow me down or ruin my day – life’s just too short. And since I made the adjustment, implementing my own instinctive version of Lauren’s five-minute plan, I have to say: I’ve been a much happier writer. I hope this is helpful.
How about you? Have you tried this or something like it? Are you willing to? Or have you found some other approach? I welcome your input (even if you just want to call me a poopyhead).
Image licensed from iStockphoto.com.