Failure

Failure

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.

Guest Post by Em Shotwell  author of Blackbird Summer

Guest Post by Em Shotwell author of Blackbird Summer