26 January 2010

Reconsidering Rejection

Yesterday, above the romp with wonderful questions, I posted a little quote about critics. I like it. In fact, I like it so much, I'm going to re post it here:

"A critic can only review the book he has read, not the one which the writer wrote." ~ Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960

I read a lot of quotes. I collect them. Some may say I'm addicted to them. I don't deny it. My quote infatuation began when I started learning calligraphy. I found other's words far more beautiful than my own. This quote, however, really stuck with me. We hear all the time about how rejection will come, how to cope with it. How some writer's wallpaper their walls with them, how some of them burn them with much pomp and circumstance. I've thought about keeping them for posterity, in case, after I'm a multi-best selling author, one of my "rejectors" ever asks me at a fancy cocktail party why I didn't contact them. I can show them I did. With a smile, of course :)

It's interesting to think that our words, which mean so much to us, may not mean as much to someone else. In fact, they may mean nothing. Or, and this is stranger still, they may mean something else entirely. Something we never planned for them to mean. Everyone takes from a work of literature what they bring to it. We have life experiences that are unique, we have personal and private battles that travel with us, even in the land on the other side of dreams. We have wounds and joys that alter our perception of things. And, here's the kicker, so do our readers.

I like to think that people will be encouraged by my writing. That they will lose themselves in another world and emerge with a greater sense of self worth. That's the goal I create for all my characters. I've always loved stories where the MC is a little on the low self esteem side, without friends or any noticeable talents. It's fun to pluck them from their humdrum existence and put them somewhere where, suddenly, they have what everyone needs! Or, what everyone thinks they need. The MC is frightened, mad, confused, hurt, angry. They want to run and hide and pretend it's not happening. That the end of the world will not be imminent if they throw it all away and go back to what was boring, yes, but comfortable at least. They don't want to hurt anymore, they don't want the weight of the world on their shoulders. They never asked for it!

How often do we feel that way? Most of the time, I'm sure. I want my readers to know they are not alone. That someone understands. And my job is to do all I can to make that happen. To the best of my ability. But once the story leaves my hands and travels to the hands of an agent or an editor, I have no control over what they take from it.

No control.

Now those are two words we don't like seeing together. I think that's why writing is such a stressful and emotional occupation. We control the universe on paper but once it's submitted, it's out of our hands. We must trust we've done our best to communicate. And we must trust our readers to understand that which we are trying to say. However, there will be those who don't "get" it. Who aren't there yet or who have already passed by. They'll reject our words. And that's okay. Yes, you read that correctly: it's okay.

If you've done your job, your best, and your story is told as it needs to be. If, as Madeleine L'Engle said, you have "served the call" to the best of your ability, then your story will find a home. It will reach those who need to be reached. The hardest part of this is finding those people. And the waiting that comes along with the hunting.

Don't give up, do your best, and write your heart out!

Happy writing,


coffeelvnmom said...

You are so right, Jenn. It's hard to let go of that control and let our work speak for itself.

I love what you said "It's okay." It really is, isn't it? I need to remind myself of that more often. And the support we have for each other in places like this blogosphere helps. We can do it!

Mmm said...

After the coffee shop opening blog events i msut come by here and properly catch up. Sorry you couldn't make it for this last Creative Tuesday but do sing up for the next. The theme is up now. I'm sure you'll find some brilliant way to work something up! :)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I love that quote - love it! This is a powerful post. It hits me somewhere deep inside and soothes some of my apprehension. Thank you for this, Jen. I think I needed to hear it more than I realized. :)

Brian Miller said...

great post. we have no control what others take. and i find that fun. sometimes they find textures that i never thought were there. it only flavors it all the more.

Helen Ginger said...

That's the problem, isn't it? As writers, we think we control the words on the page. We write them, we edit them, we love them. When they're published, they're written in stone. But, in reality, what we write doesn't always get read as we thought we wrote them. They words are the same, but they're read by people with different beliefs, mindsets, and hearts.

A thought-provoking post.

Straight From Hel

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I think the losing of control is the most terrifying part of the writing process. I don't mind criticism, I don't mind how long it takes to write or edit. I DO mind not having any control after it leaves my hands.

Elana Johnson said...

What an inspiring post. I hate the no control days too. Because I really want people to get out of my words what I put into them. But I know they won't. And it'll hurt. So I'll remember this post.

Kittie Howard said...

When my husband and I lived in Israel (his secular job; not religion), my 17-year-old sister visited. One afternoon, after a late morning rain, she and her instructor rode horses. When they returned, she happened to step into a shallow puddle. Minutes later a tour bus pulled up. The local guide told the elderly pilgrims that my sister's footprints were Christ's footprint before he went to heaven. The pilgrims rushed, as much as age permitted, to kneel in the puddle and pray. They were American. My sister wanted to rush out and say No No No but she feared they would turn on her. I am NOT making this story up.

Terresa said...

I love writing my heart out. And part of that is putting what I write "out there" and being possibly misunderstood. I suppose it's part of writing, as it's also part of life.

Writing is like birthing a baby. I have 4 real human babies (erm, children now) and yet no completely finished manuscripts yet.

But the day I do, I think I will feel reborn, just as I did on each of my children's birth days.

DG at Diary of a Mad Bathroom said...

As someone who does not submit their writing for publishing, I am spared that type of rejection. However, the same rules or thought process could be applied to a job application or an audition of some type. Not everyone will "get" you. And that really is OK.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Great points here, Jen. It's tough to take rejection (and criticism too), but it's so important to remember that the reader brings their own experiences, likes, and dislikes to the table. And we don't have any control over it.

There was a story on James Patterson in the NY Times last week:

“Thousands of people don’t like what I do,” Patterson told (the interviewer), shrugging off his detractors. “Fortunately, millions do.” Good attitude.


Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Thank you, my friend! I will!

Tiana Lei said...

I loved this post, and your quote. It sounds like you are in such a great place in terms of rejection. Keep plugging away; a woman with your spirit is sure to make it some day!

Betsy said...

Calligraphy and quotations....a perfect combination to love! :)

Mary Aalgaard said...

I'm also a quote collector. It's the letting go of anything that takes so much strength. We work, create, nurture, and live, then let go - release it to the universe. mmmm.

Jen Chandler said...

I'm so glad this post was encouraging. I hesitated posting it because anytime you talk about rejection, you risk sounding depressed!

Kittie, that is insane!! I can't believe people will exploit someone's religion like that. I feel bad for your sister!

Betsy Canas Garmon said...

Whatever your intent, I am encouraged and validated. This post reminds me of one of my favorite quotes. It's from natural horseman, Pat Parell:

"What other people think of me is none of my business."

Tiana Lei said...

I already commented on this post, so I'll just stop by to say that I gave you an award over on my blog:

Ratty said...

That's a great quote. The only person a writer should feel they have to please is themself. Hanging on somebody's negative words is never any good.

The Blonde Duck said...

You always write what I need to read.