(this blog first appeared on A Good Blog is Hard to Find)
I made it through the entirety of high school without having to endure the potential tragedy of a date.
Now, in that, it might seem as though I celebrate that I escaped the awkwardness of a staggered and indecisive conversation over a delightful dinner at Taco Bell, or that I rejoice in the passing of another dance without collapsing in a heap atop the punch bowl by way of two very clumsy, and inexperienced steps, or even that I am proud that I never had to answer that terrifying throttle of Ahab’s harpoon to the nerves, “Should I use my tongue, or would she slap ME?” But that would imply a choice in the matter. Sure, I was the shy kid that would blush if someone next to ME sneezed, but for the most part I gave gallant, if not altogether misguided, attempts at finding a girl who, “got ME.” The problem–the ultimate failing in this course–was that I spent those years of my life chasing after every single girl in the school that would rather have structured their weekends around delightfully dull dinners with their parents and younger siblings, than to have succumbed to MY cherubic charm (absent the charm). It made for quite a run of rejection, to be honest. The kind that, more often than not, left me standing bewildered in a hallway of students, a mere bumper to the course, a potential ramp of skateboarding delight, wondering why it was that a slap to the face could make MY feet hurt so badly.
The pure fact of it all is that rejection sucks. Sure, you can pick yourself up, you can tell yourself that they just didn’t get you, and that someday you’ll find someone to flaunt in front of the line of people that rejected you, and take the high road, give a simple raise of the brow, and maybe a knowing smile (which always works best with the tongue out, if you ask ME), and you’ll revel in your triumph, hand in hand with acceptance. But those words…those god-awful words, just never leave you.
“No, you’re just really not cool enough for me.”
“Yeah, um, I’m just not looking for you right now. Check back with me in a couple of years.”
“You’re a really great guy, and you have great potential as a companion, but I don’t think you fully understand what dating is all about. Maybe you should be looking for someone with lower standards.”
“You know, I might have gotten those messages, but I haven’t really had a chance to listen to them. How about you call me in a few weeks, and, if I’ve had a chance to review your proposal, we’ll talk then?”
“See, the problem is your pitch. If you had begun with the most important part–where you ask me out–I might not have lost interest so quickly. The whole, ‘I’ve been thinking a lot about what to say,’ bit is a horribly cliche start. It’s the way these things work, though. I get so many offers each week, and I only have so much time to listen.”
It’s a tired, tired, um, tired…thing, but you carry on. You carry on because you’re stubborn. You carry on because you just couldn’t imagine another day without a companion by your side. You carry on because, well, because you’re just plain lonely, and really want someone to share your time with. Mostly, you carry on because you refuse to be denied, and know that someday the right girl is going to come around, and that you will utterly, absolutely, and undeniably rock her world. You do this because the failure to do so, would mean the end of your dating life, which is something you just cannot allow.
But never mind that, we’re here to talk about writing, which has nothing at all to do with anything I have thus far said. After all, people will always appreciate you for spilling your guts out on the computer tremendously more than they do if you do so in person. You need thick skin in any area of life that presents the possibility for rejection, but writing is pretty straightforward, and is unlikely to ever cause you pain, or grief, or to feel like your brains have just been sucked out through your nose.
For example, I was on the verge of snagging a literary agent once at the William Morris Agency, but was declined, after a thorough reading, not due to poorly written material, but due to problematic scheduling, and an untimely submission. See for yourself: “Though we appreciate, and value, your talent as a writer, we feel that your manuscript is just not right for our agency, or for the market at this time. Please consider us for future projects, however.”
See? That’s not a rejection at all, and sounds nothing like the rejections posted above! They clearly wanted to represent ME, but were unable to because of the market. They just couldn’t wait to read the rest of MY work!
Earlier that same year, I had sent sample writings to the wonderfully compassionate, and caring, people at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. They were so very considerate in their attempts to encourage MY writing skills, that they sent me a letter to MY request that included the following: “Writing is a skill that we wish to harness, and cultivate, in each, and every, writer. We feel, though you do show great potential, that you would be best served to improve your skill further before applying again for Bread Loaf. Please consider sending us more material in a couple of years.”
Again, such a willingness to lead ME in the right direction! How can I feel anything but complete acceptance of MY skill, and ability? Goodness knows, I might very well have languished in a perpetual state of un-improvement for years to come! Now I’m a published author! Thank you, Bread Loaf!
Sometimes–yes, even in the publishing industry!–the level of acceptance you receive from publishers, or agents, or editors, or the like, can be twinged ever so slightly with a heavy, yet suggestive, hand. You might even feel a bit put off by the words they have chosen, but rest assured that they only have your best interests at heart, and want nothing more than to see you in their fold, successful and happy! They try so hard to offer you their acceptance that they will chance to wake you from your blissful rest with a most carefully aimed bomb. For example, I sent a manuscript to Harper Collins many years ago, offering them the glorious chance to view a book I knew they would trip over themselves to purchase. What I received was a carefully worded letter, indicating that my work was such a stellar piece of art, that they wanted to ensure I knew how elated they were that such a young man (I was 18 at the time, and fresh off a new branch of female-induced rejection) had, “taken up writing as a hobby.” Wow! What kind words! I mean, I’m sure that spell-check missed the, “hobby,” part of that. Obviously, they meant, “career,” but such are the follies of the computer age!
So, rest assured, dear friends of the craft, that rejection is not something you will ever have to deal with. Your best interests, and the cultivation of your art, will be coddled by those in your midst: by your friends, fellow writers, agents, editors, the kindly old lady in the cafe that threatened to beat you with her walker if you talked about your writing just once more, and so on. They want only to see you succeed. All you have to do is smile, and wait for the offers to pour in.
Just don’t ask ME for dating advice.