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Why writers need rejection (and how it can make you successful)

Rejection. If you’re anything like me, you won’t be a stranger to this word. In fact, if you don’t know it intimately then you’re doing something wrong and are probably floating through life without actually living.

Rejection and I have actually become quite close over the years. Not best friends, certainly, but we know each other well enough to share a beer or two, having grown up together from those days where I was your average teenager with a spectacularly bad dating record, to that time I finally got a date with a real-life girl only to be dumped at the end because the cinema playing Four Weddings & a Funeral happened to be full and I took her to see Beverly Hills Cop III instead.

(Okay, it could've been worse I guess.)

Thankfully these days the turn-downs are slightly more impressive. In the past couple of weeks alone I’ve taken some pretty high-level hits from everyone, including potential employers, a potential literary agent, a couple of well-regarded fanzines, and even a powerhouse publisher.

And while the rejections keep on coming, I actually don’t mind. In fact, I’ve learned to love them. Because they are ABSOLUTELY necessary.

As a writer there is no escape. Rejection is part and parcel of everyday life. Whether a beginner or paid professional, it will always be there lurking in the shadows outside your building, waiting for you to make an appearance so it can tell you how much you suck.

Of course, some days it may keep its mouth shut. But you know it’s still following you down the street, biding its time. That glorious silence is only ever temporary if you want to keep venturing out into the public eye—and yet venture out you must, in order to progress with your writing. Staying in simply isn’t an option, unless you like your future lonely, unpublished and filled with cats.

You might not realise, but rejection brings fortune and glory and multi-million-dollar book and film deals. It gets you the best agents and publishers. It even gets people fighting at work about which of your fictional characters is hotter, or stronger, or cleverer than somebody else’s fictional characters.

The only thing you have to remember is that it’s not an overnight process. If rejection is A, and the Man Booker Prize and Hugo Awards are C, then B is where the hard work takes place—and, most importantly, where the choice between crumbling into failure or striving for C is made.

Nobody writes brilliant first drafts. N.O.B.O.D.Y. Understand? Good writing only happens when you revise the crap you poured onto the paper in the first place. And therefore rejecting the work is what eventually allows it to live, breathe and stare you in the face daring you to REJECT ME ONE MORE TIME YOU PICKY BASTARD! (At which point it’s probably ready.)

So the first person to reject the work should always be you. Your internal reader. The guy or girl who sits in your head examining what it sees and comparing it to what you want it to be.

After that it will be your critique partners or beta readers or whatever you like to call those friends or family who take the time to read your words. If they’re honest, they will reject the bits that don’t work for them and tell you so. At which point you should be grateful, then work at fixing them ready for the next round of critiques, and so on, until finally you dare to usher the polished words on to those gatekeepers of success: the agents, editors and publishers.

And even after that, when those words you wrote have grown into a work you can hold in your hand and examine from every angle, when you think ‘Hey, I’ve finished, I can finally relax’, there will be those readers who rain on your book parade with criticism about all the bits THEY reject.

Unfortunately at that point you can do nothing about it, other than cry, throw a hissy fit, pen an angry tweet about how you are a successful writer and all who criticise are failures at what they really wanted to do…

…then hopefully settle down to objectively consider what they said and perhaps use it to improve your next writing project.

We all think we hate rejection. The sick feeling it brings on. The need to punch a hole in something.

But in reality it can work wonders to motivate and inspire growth. To provide us with the opportunity to do better.

In a world without rejection we’d all be stuck in jobs and relationships that weren’t right for us, listening to (eughgh) happy music where there’s no such thing as unrequited love, and reading awful books cluttering the marketplace with their first page information dumps, typos, bad grammar, continuity errors, and overwritten plots, simply because they were accepted first time, every time.*

Who wants that?

Rejection builds quality. And quality (and a little hard work) can build success.

It’s a gift. So next time you’re handed it, smile gracefully and be sure to say thanks.

*A cheap dig at self-publishing or foreshadowing a future post... you decide!

[First published Monday 28 January 2013]


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