You Know You’re a Writer When…: Dealing with Rejection – Part II

Hello, inklings! I hope y’all have had a wonderful week of outlining/writing/revising/doubts-and-fears smashing!

I left off last week talking about (more like “pouring my heart out about”…) my experience thus far with traditional publishing (the gilded glades and silvery shores of Publication Land) and how you know you’re a writer when you continue to put pen to paper (or, in most of our cases, hands to keyboard) even when you have enough rejection letters to build your own life-size replica of the Sears Tower (I’d call it the Tears Tower :-P).

This week, I want to talk about a little thing called hubris, that pretentious vocab word we learned in high school while studying Greek tragedy. The meaning of the word has been substantially altered in our modern age and is most commonly defined as excessive pride or self-confidence.[1] Back in Aristotle’s day, it consisted of doing and saying things that harm or shame others due to a gross sense of superiority. It’s what caused old Oedipus to defy the prophecies of the gods concerning his fate, unwittingly kill his father, unfortunately marry his mother, gouge out his own eyes, and get exiled from Thebes. To use a favorite phrase of my husband’s, no bueno.

So what does hubris have to do with dealing with rejection and being a writer? I’m glad you asked!

It goes without saying that for one to decide to make writing their full-time profession, or pursue it in their spare time if they have a day job, one must feel fairly confident that they’ve got some serious storytelling skillz. (I would hope that if someone writes as well as a walrus sings, a friend or family member would lovingly break the news to them before they quit their nine to five to become the next Paula Hawkins!)

Let me be clear: confidence certainly is not a bad thing. It’s what frees us to chase after the passions that thrill us instead of settling for the apathy that kills us. It’s what speaks up for us when self-doubt rears its ugly head, or when those dastardly gremlins called “Bad Reviews” pop up on Amazon or our social media.  It’s what invigorates us each morning when we sit in front of a blank computer screen knowing that soon it will be filled with fresh ideas and a riveting world. (Never mind. It’s coffee that does that.)

But, confidence can become excessive. When left unchecked, it can morph into self-sabotaging hubris.

'Icarus, let's get a tan.' - Hubris in action!
Hubris in action!

 

When I was a newbie to the whole rejection part of this #writinglife, I have to admit I didn’t take criticism well. In fact, I was just like this erudite version of my favorite Disney princess:

Dealing with Rejection - Part II

But then I began to see a trend running through the rejection emails for my first novel, Moonbow. Here’s an excerpt from one of them:

I definitely see potential here. I enjoyed learning more about this pseudo-Ancient Greece fantasy world; the writing is vivid and descriptive, and the world-building is rich and well thought-out. The plot has high stakes and is compelling and hooky (girl wants to avenge brother’s death). Due to these elements, I see this book somewhat in the vein of THRONE OF GLASS or SHADOW AND BONE.

However, I think the manuscript struggles in terms of characters, especially the main character Iris. She feels distant, so even though I was interested in her story on an intellectual level, I wasn’t emotionally invested in her … I do see potential in this writer and this concept, but as is, I’m afraid it’s a pass for us. I know you have other interest, so perhaps someone else has a different view. If you end up not selling it and the author is interested in revising, we’d be happy to take another look.

Looking back at this now, a year after I received it and was still more of a cocky, thin-skinned mermaid than a reasonable aspiring fiction author, I am actually encouraged! The positives that had been eclipsed by the big, black thunderhead of rejection are now popping out at me, and I realize that I did quite a few things right (who’d a thunk it!?). However, the deal-breaking negative was not insignificant.

The opinion that my main character felt distant was widespread among all but one editor, who said he simply passed out of a “purely marketing consideration” (just our luck sometimes!). One thing you do not want in your novel is a main character to whom readers don’t connect, and therefore don’t care about or root for. [2]

 

So what did I do?: bit the bullet and hired an editor.

There are sooooooooo many reasons why hiring a professional editor (not your mom, your boyfriend, or your Yoga buddy) is a must if you can afford it. (And if you can’t afford it, save up for it!) However, because attention spans are short and this post is already running long, I’ll save those reasons for another blog. Suffice it to say, my editor was invaluable to Moonbow. Granted, for the first five minutes after I received her edit letter, I was tempted to tear it to shreds and set it on fire (darn you, hubris!). Then anger faded to depression as I considered how much work reworking my main character and revising the entire manuscript would require.[3]

I had to walk away.

A few days later, my trusty writer’s confidence returned, giving me the courage to open up that edit letter and get to work. Now, I have a debut novel that I can be proud of, not because it’s a bestseller (it definitely isn’t!), or because it earned me a publishing contract (it didn’t), but because it proved to me that I have what it takes to see this writing thing through. And because it showed me the weaknesses in my writing, weaknesses that will only get stronger as long as I keep a level head, a humble heart, and nimble fingers eager to type and type and type…

 

What are some of the lessons that rejection has taught you? Leave a comment below or tweet me @dandersontyler! Also, connect with me via my new writing-and-reading-related Instagram account, @datbooklife!

Keep Shining, (1)

 

[1] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hubris?s=t (accessed February 18, 2016)

[2] I was using the “don’t end a sentence with a preposition” rule so well at the beginning of that sentence… #SMH

[3] Those who say writing the first draft is the easy part are absolutely right!

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