Remember how I said in an earlier post that the only to develop a thick skin is by experiencing rejection? Let’s keep it real–it hurts, friends. And I’m not just talking to my fellow writers. We’ve all experienced failure and rejection in some form, haven’t we? That special someone who turned you down. That time you didn’t get called for a second interview. The dream college who rejected your application. That time you got picked last for teams on the school playground.
We’ve all been there, in one form or another. In fact, I took my own trip to Rejection Land this past week, and being a writer, thought what better topic for my next blog post?
Because when we experience the pain of rejection, our minds inevitably skate along to the same conclusions: I’m not good enough. If there was any question before, this incident has proven it. Should I give up? And for us writers–
Should I quit writing?
And I want that answer for you, and for myself, to always be
No. Don’t give up. Ever.
Now there may come a time when, due to life circumstances, you make a reasoned decision to step away from writing. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about that moment of crushing defeat when you feel like a caveman with a chisel could write a better novel than you, and so hang it all, you might as well just quit now and spare the world from your worthless drivel. DO NOT QUIT at a moment like that. Brain needs to make the decisions, not fear or self-pity or shame.
Yes, it would, in fact, be a whole lot easier to quit than to suffer through rejection and keep working anyway…but then why did you become a writer in the first place?
Dreams for Sale
A dream is a lovely, fragile thing. Full of hope and promise, a little secret treasure chest you protect in your hands. They’re easy to break. They’re also far too easy to abandon, because they take work.
Granted, there might be somebody out there who was born to write the way Mozart could compose symphonies at the age of eight, but that isn’t 99.9% of us. The rest of us have to achieve our dreams the good old-fashioned way, by HARD WORK.
Unfortunately, this input of constant hard work makes giving up look all too appealing, especially in the face of failure and rejection.
Awards! Prizes! Recognition!
Why do you write? My answer is because it’s one of my God-given passions and part of my purpose. But, I’ll be honest, sometimes other answers creep in… What if I could write a bestseller? My book would be in the library. We’d have enough money for that trip to Disney World. I’d have fans. Interviews. Book tours. Maybe even a movie.
Okay, that might be a little over the top. But, as somebody slathered in awards in high school, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there’s a part of me craving recognition in adult life. (For some reason, nobody has nominated me for “Homeschool Mom of the Year” yet. Go figure!)
Ah, but with writing, there are writing contests! And they have a lot to offer beyond prizes and recognition (if you choose wisely). It was, in fact, my first writing contest–a local short story contest–that gave me the extra boost of confidence I needed to view writing as more than a when-I-have-time-for-it hobby. That’s the flip side to rejection–if you’re one of the lucky few who do win, that victory feels pretty sweet.
But reality is, a lot of people enter, and only a few win. No matter how great the entries are for a given category, many writers won’t escape the first round. More drop out in the second. And even among the rare and lucky finalists, only one gets the prize.
A lot of people “losing” equals a lot of disappointment and rejection. And the hard part is, no matter how logically you look at things, it still hurts–a feeling I well know after my two entries in ACFW’s Genesis contest failed to reach the finalist list.
After not making the semifinals for my entry last year, I almost didn’t participate. These two entries were submitted in the eleventh hour on a whim. Imagine my shock and delight when they were both selected as semifinalists! The odds weren’t in my favor to make the finals–I knew only three out of seven entries in each category would be chosen. I was prepared for the worst. But hope can be a troublesome companion, and even when the phone stayed silent hour after hour, I couldn’t shake that dream of attending the awards gala as an “important” person. (Forget how virtually impossible it would’ve actually been for me to get there, or that awards don’t make one important.)
But, alas, neither entry made it. No trip to Nashville. No recognition or attention for being a Genesis finalist. No rubbing elbows with agents and editors at the special luncheon. No asking Frank Peretti to sign my twelve copies of his books. (Kidding…I can at least pretend to be a professional. Maybe just one…) No external confirmation that people love my work.
Worst of all, that immediate, persistent thought–
Not good enough. Years of work, two genres, and neither good enough. Should I give up?
Answering the Hardest Question
Logic is my constant ally. My brain leaped immediately into action, trying to save the ship from going down with all hands. I won’t relay every thought that went through my head, but here’s the important stuff.
Since when does winning or losing define purpose? Or even, if we’re talking query letters or beta readers–since when do other people’s opinions define purpose? Sure, results matter–but the result I’m looking for is a well-written, entertaining story. Judges are people, and people never agree on stories, even the classics.
Besides, how would quitting possibly help me achieve my dream of being a published author?
Thankfully, logic won the day. That, and remembering the results of my work are in God’s hands. If I’m called to use this talent and passion He’s given me, then I can’t just quit because things get tough.
So what did I get out of this contest, other than a minor existential crisis and near stomach ulcer?
- Street credit–My entries may not have finaled, but making the semifinals is still a big deal. And I have an entry that was selected as a finalist in RWA’s Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense. You can bet both of these accolades will be turning up in my next query letter in the bio section.
- Honest feedback–The judges filled out a score sheet and many provided comments on the manuscript. They pointed out both what they liked and things that didn’t work from their perspectives. Even when I get feedback that feels too critical or tactless, or isn’t something I agree with, if I dig beneath the surface there’s always something there to improve my work.
- Confirmation that not everyone agrees–Each entry was judged by six different people. Sometimes the exact sentence or element that one person praised would be pointed out as a flaw be someone else. That’s life. We all have different opinions, and it’s freeing to know that you need to write your story without trying to please everybody, because it isn’t possible.
- Thicker skin–Every time you hear or read a negative critique of your writing, face that sting of not being perfect and try to use what you’ve been told to improve. It’s surprisingly energizing once you get past the yucky feelings and move onto making your work better. And the skin gets thicker.
Thanks for sticking with me through this lengthy post. I’ll leave you with this thought–when the time comes that you fail, that you don’t meet your or others’ expectations, or that you get a stinging rejection, what will you choose? To quit, or to press on? I hope it’s the latter, because only you can tell your stories, and somebody out there is waiting to read them.
Image credits: Pexels.com, CC0 license.