“I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.”- Maya Angelou
Hello, inklings! I hope this post finds you warm and well and full of wonderful, writerly thoughts!
Though this blog series hasn’t exactly been as lighthearted and happy – or alliterative – as today’s salutation (rejection is hardly a pleasant subject), it has, if I’ve succeeded, been optimistic, a characteristic that Helen Keller defined as “the faith that leads to achievement.” And faith, I have found, always produces happiness.
In the previous three posts, I discussed my personal experiences with rejection from publishers, my first agent, even friends and family on whom I had placed unfair expectations and from whom I wrongly sought validation. These unhappy times proved invaluable as they not only strengthened my craft, but reinforced my faith in myself as a writer. I learned firsthand that in order to grow, we must be brought low. By embracing and even giving thanks for every obstacle, setback, and moment (or month!) of discouragement, we see that they are merely flames in a furnace, and we are the gold being purified within them.
As you can probably tell, this series has been quite cathartic for me, and I was actually planning on ending it with last week’s post; I was feeling refreshed, rejuvenated, and ready to take on a different topic! But while I was in the shower Sunday night (showers are proven idea generators/life clarifiers, in case you didn’t know), I realized I wasn’t done. There’s still at least one more source of rejection I’m sad to say I have dealt with, and have a feeling you will, too…if you haven’t already:
rejection from fellow artists.
Before I continue, let me say that because I’m not about bashing individuals or being passive-aggressive in the name of transparency, I’m going to paint with broad strokes and leave out the gossipy details. This is sort of like that disclaimer that plays after movies and TV shows: “Any similarity with fictitious events or characters was purely coincidental.”
Anyway, my first encounter with this type of rejection happened when I was 20 years old, just after I had finished editing my Christian fitness book for teenaged girls. I was at a writers conference and found myself shaking hands with a highly respected well-known author and speaker whom I had admired for years. My eyes lit up when she asked me about my book, and then, in a matter of seconds, I had to fight to keep them from welling with tears. I forget exactly what she said, but it wasn’t encouraging. In effect, she questioned the premise of the book and whether fitness could be combined with faith (As it turns out, it can).
I felt like a little girl at Disney World who’d run up to have her picture taken with Cinderella, only to be turned away and told dreams really don’t come true. The whole thing about magic and fairy dust and happy endings, I thought, is all a sham, and good-hearted princesses and beneveolent godmothers are simply filthy liars in disguise.
Since that time, I’ve personally met and corresponded with numerous authors who left me feeling disappointed, depressed, and generally disenchanted with the writing community. People who publicly projected themselves as being uplifting, welcoming, and eager to help aspiring writers were, in person and over email, shockingly cold and closed off.
Some slack can be cut for the “super-busy authors” who probably receive hundreds of emails a week, but in that case, flat-out rudeness is still poor form. In my opinion, a cordial autoresponse is preferred over brusque mean-spiritedness. What I really have trouble comprehending is when writers who, like me, are still relative newbies, treat me as a though I’m a threat or opponent rather than a potential friend and collaborator.
The way I see it, there’s enough water in this ocean of blood, sweat, tears, and ink for every fish to thrive. We shouldn’t feel defensive when other writers ask us for tips because we fear handing them out will leave us with nothing. We shouldn’t withhold our struggles, our trials, our lessons learned because we’re afraid others will think less of our talent. We shouldn’t avoid saying positive things about another writer’s book or blog or YouTube video because we think all our readers will choose their work over ours. And, for Pete’s sake, we shouldn’t behave like barbarians who don’t say Please and Thank You, regardless if we’re short on time.
I know it’s cliché, but it’s timeless wisdom: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If there’s one thing rejection from “others of my kind” has taught me, it’s that I want to be different. I want to be a writer who is more empathetic and encouraging in person than I am on paper. I want to be a writer who finds it an honor, not an inconvenience, to receive emails and tweets asking for advice. I want to be a writer who sees other writers as allies, not enemies.
Are you that kind of writer? If so, what are some things you do to encourage other writers? Is there anything that I can help you with? Also, if you’d like to write a writing-related guest post, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to collaborate!