Rejection is a bitch, and it can come in many forms. Most writers probably feel the bitter sting of rejection for the first time when they decide to share something they wrote and get a lukewarm reaction. What? Your genius is not appreciated? Mom didn’t immediately call the local paper?
Then there is a new level of rejection once you start submitting work. When you start getting those tiny slips of paper in the mail and you think, “they couldn’t even use a whole sheet of paper? They rejected eight writers with one piece!” The self addressed stamped envelope (SASE) is a tough one, too. You get the letter. It weighs nothing so you know it’s a rejection and, to add insult to injury, the letter was addressed by your own hand.
Once you get published, there is more rejection. Sales are slow. There may be negative reviews. There is criticism. I post a lot of short pieces on my blog. Sometimes people make a special point of telling me they thought a particular piece was less than stellar. I don’t know why.
Rejection doesn’t bother me too much. I think the little rejection slips thickened my skin up. I started looking at the positives of rejection. For every little slip of paper, someone was at least reading what I wrote (or at least the first paragraph). But more importantly, I was out there. I was playing the game. And you can’t win all the games you play. Now, I’m not going to lie. The acceptance letter is a much more satisfying experience, but I don’t think we should overlook the value of rejection.
Rejection proves you are being proactive, but it also keeps you humble. Writers face lots of pitfalls. Some drink too much. Some never leave their apartments. Some get bitter and cynical. I could go on. I won’t, because the worst of them all is vanity. That’s the one I want to talk about. Vain writers are the worst kind of writers.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t be proud of what you produce. You should. You should feel good about your abilities, especially if you have worked hard to hone your writing skills. But no one likes writing that is in love with itself. Or a writer who thinks he/she is God.
I think, at least if you start writing young, that everyone falls prey to this initially. It is part of maturing. I have old stories that I come across every once in a while. Things I wrote when I was sixteen that I thought were brilliant. Now, they read like a bad Kerouac impression. They are indulgent. They are self-serving. They are drowning in obtuse metaphors and pretentious prose.
Vanity is unappealing. I don’t dig vain people, and I don’t like to read vain writing. Good writing is like the girl at the bar who is gorgeous because she looks like she could care less what people think of her…her beauty is natural, understated, intriguing…you want to know more about her. Bad writing is like the girl a couple of tables down with the push-up bra and ten pounds of make-up who spent three hours on her hair. (Insert appropriate male analogies if you are a straight woman or a gay man).
Good writers have a light touch. They sprinkle interesting metaphors like saffron…just enough to subtly enhance the flavor of what they write. Their imagery is sufficient to create the scene. It is not showy. Face it, if you’re a good writer, you can show off and impress idiots fairly easily. But idiots should not be your intended audience.
One more analogy. I like music a lot. And I write music. And I play guitar. And there is nothing that can ruin a good song faster than a long, wanky, show-offy guitar solo.
Let rejection keep you humble. You are a writer. Great. If you are a good writer, even better. Just remember…the guy who pulls up to the bar in the shiny corvette with a thousand dollar suit and a diamond pinky ring? He ends up going home with the push-up bra and make-up. The guy who has his own unique style, can make interesting conversation, can be funny as well as empathetic…he goes home with the cute girl who isn’t trying too hard. Look around you. Writers. Painters. Athletes. Carpenters. It doesn’t matter who you are…if you have talent, you don’t spend all your time trying to prove it. You don’t have to.
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