Most things worth doing have their moments of frustration—it’s as if a whole world of negativity opens up, abounding with endless possibility, and all of it unpleasant. Maybe I should just give up. I knew I sucked at this. I’ll never get out from under the thumb of so-and-so. This was a stupid project to take on in the first place. Failures too, come in a variety of shapes and sizes: our own motivation may seize up, we run into grown-up versions of bullies, markets shift, opportunities close. Whatever the situation that led to this moment, we’re growling.
In this context, let’s consider the rejection letter.
Writers worth their salt (I have some excellent lava flake salt in my kitchen as I type this, for instance) research the markets for their work before submitting a short story, or spend quality time assessing which agents are likely to be most inclined to represent them and their latest book. So it makes sense that when a rejection letter comes back, especially a form rejection—in which there’s nothing personal at all about the author or work to note in the prose—it feels frustrating. This sense of personal stuckness is only exacerbated once the writer clicks over to Twitter and sees a host of congratulations for another writer’s very recent success. Sure, it can feel like whatever point there is to any of this has packed its bags and moved to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
This is exactly the point when a writer should reach out and do something positive for another person, another writer, even. The first impersonal rejection is the worst, after all. The eleventh is more like a dull thud of a letdown, which we all know is easier to deal with than the initial wrecking ball smashing through one’s glass house ego. So here are some alternatives to whining about those frustrating moments:
1. Sign up for a critique group.—Check out Meet Up’s Web site to see if there are any local writer’s groups. Don’t even worry if they write in different genres; reading across the field is healthy, right? And it can provide a good sense of community.
2. Put out a call for beta readers.—There are people all over who would love to read and comment on not-published work. Sure, there will be suggestions that don’t work, but lots of what comes back can be very helpful, and also give a sense of where the work is doing well, and what needs more work.
3. Offer to read a young writer’s work.—Don’t stand on a street corner with a sign. If there are young adults or new writers in proximity, talk to them, ask what they’re working on, and be available to answer questions. It could mean a lot to them.
4. See someone else down in the dumps? Lift them up.—Remind them that failure and frustration are a part of the writing process itself, and it can help serve to remind you, too.