Dealing With Rejection

“I have not failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.” –Thomas Edison

The moment you decide to become a writer, you must immediately afterward brace yourself for rejection. Regardless of the fans you’ve gained and the praise you’ve garnered in your own social circle, it is very likely that a high majority of the literate public, publishers included, will either have no interest in your work or simply not like it. Does this mean, though, that writing as a career is pointless and that you should give up as soon as possible to avoid heartache?

Of course it doesn’t!

If everyone had identical tastes in literature, there would be no need or calling whatsoever for the countless inspired artists that take a pen in hand every day, and if the collective taste of the world could be so easily swayed and homogenized by mass media, then there would be no need for literature, either.

What it does mean, however, is that a good writer should build up an immunity to rejection and criticism to the point where he is no longer devastated by it. He should be able to see the point of view of his readers with a critical eye and retool his work accordingly until something works. (Although, the subjective phrase “constructive criticism” should be put into perspective here. It is only truly constructive if the writer deems it worthy and decides to act upon it, and it affects the work for the better. No one can consciously offer this sort of criticism no matter how important or experienced they are.)

How can anyone build up an immunity to criticism and rejection when it is their work on the line? How can anyone not take it personally when one has poured all his heart, time, energy and dedication into a work of prose only to have an outsider who has never written a creative word in his life frivolously detest it? It would be like someone being cruel and overbearing to your own children. How could anyone possibly deal with that?

Simple. What you write is not really yours to begin with.

Allow me clarify. Regardless of what the international copyright laws state, once you have finished your work, submitted it for approval and released it to the public, it is no longer yours, but the reader’s. Going back to the child-rearing metaphor, you raise your children and teach them everything that you think they need to thrive in a cold, cruel world. Eventually, you have to let them fly on their own and stand on their own two feet. You know that life will not be easy for them, and surely they will be mocked and scorned, but it’s something they must deal with on their own and you can only hope that you have given them everything they need to stand tall in adversity. At this point, no matter how much you refer to them as “your children”, they are their own person, now, and it is their responsibility to fly or fall. You can’t be there to see to their every need anymore. You must trust that you’ve done everything you can, and let them go.

And you must do this to your work as well. Let it go. It’s no longer yours to stress and cry over. You’ve given your work of prose everything you think it needs to succeed, and as long as you’ve done that, you can let it go and emotionally detach yourself from it with relative ease. Whenever your work is scrutinized, the reader is not looking for you, he is looking for himself. He is actively looking for someone and something to attach himself and relate to, and if he can’t find that, there is nothing of value in it and the resulting criticism is negative.

The role of literature (and art in general) is to shed light on us as human beings, and to entreat us to question ourselves, our motives, and our surroundings. If you can remember this, then you can make informed decisions about whether or not criticism is well founded, and how you can use it intelligently to retool your work to serve its purpose.

As artists, we are constantly changing and growing in all aspects of life, and thus our art must change and grow as well.


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