In my mind, it sounds like a broken computer screen, a shattered glass of wine, the slow crackling as fire consumes paper.
In truth, it sounds a lot like this email: “We regret to inform you that we will pass on your manuscript.” I would be lying if I wrote that when I open these, I saw something positive, drank a rare green tea, and did some yoga to work through things.
I’m not that kind of person; I take rejection personally. Each time feels like a punch to the face, and takes a bit of my drive. But then, soul bared and vulnerable, I ask myself. “Did Rocky just lie down or did he get up and win?”
Oh yeah, Rocky lost that first one.
It took me a long time to learn how to deal with rejection and failure—months if I am going to be honest. The first time my novel was turned down, I told myself they just didn’t understand. The second through eighth times, I took it in stride knowing that eventually I would hit my mark. Around the twelfth rejection I started to get angry. It was me against the world, and the world was wrong.
It was an unhealthy mindset, and one that only got worse. In my mind I was a failure at everything. So I stopped writing, stopped sending my stuff out, stopped pretty much everything. I reasoned that all the extra time I had spent writing could have been put to better use on important things like drinking, TV, and video games. The world had become gray, and I had chosen to accept that and move on. Without colorful dreams, I became used to the drab hue.
I would like to say that I had some sort of rock-bottom moment, an epiphany that changed everything. If my life were a novel, around this point in the plot I would have met a quirky girl with bangs, had a few wacky adventures, and eventually realized the meaning of life.
But life is rarely like fiction. (A good thing, in my opinion: I read a lot of fantasy and I am pretty happy not running across dragons during my daily commute). Instead, I took a weekend trip with my real-life (no bangs) girlfriend. To me, small trips are like tiny breaths of air, allowing myself to stretch and see something new. I spent the weekend eating amazing food, wandering city streets, and going on uncomfortable mansion tours.
By the end of that trip, I felt settled and comfortable in a life without writing. But at the airport, I started playing some music, and that music reminded me of a feeling, and that feeling painted a picture, and almost without thinking I opened my iPad and wrote: “When Hiro dreamed, he dreamed in color, only to wake up in gray.”
It was the beginning of a whole new world. I wrote more about that world and a new novel began to come together. I liked what I was doing, and I was excited to do it. The world became less gray. And the brighter it turned, the less the rejections haunted me. When I read what I had written, I had to admit it was much better than the beginning of the other book.
Eventually, buoyed and driven as I was by this new project, a radical notion appeared in my brain. Maybe there were reasons behind those rejections, and maybe—if I explored them—these reasons didn’t have to break me down but, rather, could push me farther. Perhaps they could help me become a better, stronger writer.
So with this in mind, I did something else: I reached out to another writer I had met at a conference. He was farther along in his career and I asked him for advice on that first project, the one I’d so dramatically sworn off. I told him I knew it needed help, but didn't know what to do. He gave me the name of an amazing editor, with a long list of credits. After a few conversations I hired the editor to help me.
Two months later, he gave me his feedback. And of course it hurt. I knew it would take some serious work to fix my first novel, and I asked myself once more if I loved my project. I didn’t even need to go on a vacation to find the answer: I knew I’d keep going.
Rejection still hits me just as hard as it did when I sent out that first book. When I write, I’m creating something personal, and because of this, I feel hurt the first time, the second time, and all the other times down the line. But I now understand it is a part of life, at least for anyone who’s trying to create, and as such, it can be the very fuel we need to make something completely amazing.