On Rebuilding the Titanic

Rejection hurts.

There is no kinder way to put it. There’s no way to change the truth.

And when a person makes the choice to pursue a dream, especially one like writing, where the dreamer cannot exercise complete control … rejection is part of the process. It will happen.

Whether a person chooses to pursue traditional publishing, self-publishing, or a variation on the theme, the writer’s work will be rejected, one way or another. Agents might not feel the passion they need to sell the work in this difficult market. Editors and publishers will pass. Readers will offer one-star reviews (and do not hate them for it…everyone is entitled to an opinion, and you cannot reasonably expect that everyone will love your work).

Part of choosing art as a profession, or even an avocation, is learning to accept the rejection that comes along with it. Admittedly, it’s hard. 

On the days when rejection comes, it’s easy to picture yourself as a third-class passenger on the Titanic, doomed to sink while the privileged first-class ladies row away in boats that surely had enough room for just one more…

It’s easy to wallow in that sorrow, to wear it like a badge, or to let it poison the sweeter waters of hope from which you drank before the “no” arrived.

But that’s a choice.

Writing is not the Titanic — though it is important to learn when it’s time to desert a sinking manu-ship in favor of a sturdier vessel. (In other words: complete a project and move to another — not a sequel — while you seek a publisher for the first. Don’t make the mistake of clinging to a single project for years–or longer–just because it hasn’t sold.)

When rejection strikes, take a three-pronged approach to pushing it back into the hole it crawled from:

— Call, or text, or talk with a friend who knows the struggle and can help you through it. Another writer is best — preferably one who’s been through the struggle and come out the other side. Mostly, you want someone positive, who will lift you up instead of joining you in the mud for a nice, long wallow. Remember: the goal is coming through the darkness, not holding a party there.

— Write. The best way to recover from a writing rejection is writing – but not a return to the project that was rejected. Unless you absolutely have to fix the rejected work (for example, because the rejection came from an editor with whom the work is under contract, so you have to fix it to meet a contract deadline) spend a day (or longer, if possible) working on something else entirely. Focus on improving your skills. Let the rejection make you better, and stronger, than you were before.  

— Re-anchor yourself in the calling. Take the time to remember why you do this in the first place. Writers write because they can’t do otherwise. We write because words and stories burn in our hearts and demand release. Remember what inspires you, and spend some time doing it. Walk in a forest. Read a good book. Pray, or eat, or watch a monster movie. Let that inspiration soothe the pain and feed the muse.

The one thing you cannot do is surrender. Do not go softly into that good night. 

Rejection will come, and pain will come with it. But those are temporary things. Fight through them, and build a better ship. If it sinks, build another. And another. And another.

Because it isn’t talent, skill, or money that defeats rejection in this life. Fame and fortune get you just so far. Determination, fortitude, and perseverance are the keys to locking up rejection. We all stumble.

The successful writers are the ones who find the strength to get back up again.

2 thoughts on “On Rebuilding the Titanic

  • September 26, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    Love the comparison to the Titanic. We have felt like we were going down on a sinking ship…or drowned rats…at one point or another. Great motivational post!

  • September 26, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    “The sinking manu-ship” is today’s win.

    Yeah, this was that week for me. A one-star review (also a four-star and a five-star, but you know those sensitive author types) and a rejection on a submission I actually felt pretty good about. Fortunately I have several other irons in the fire, but yeah, some days you just want to whine for a while.

    WHINE WHINE RANT WHINE. Thanks for the post.

    And now, I’m alt-tabbing over to my work in progress. 🙂

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