Have you ever had your writing critiqued and received some “not so nice” comments? Maybe you’ve submitted something to an agent only to have them turn it down. No matter the importance or the seriousness of the work involved, rejection hurts.
Rejection is also a major part of a writer’s life. No matter how well you write, there are always going to be people who don’t like it. That’s a fact of life. We’re all different and have different likes and dislikes. Trust me, it’s a good thing.
As readers we all have our favorite genres that we gravitate to. That doesn’t mean other genres aren’t any good, we just have our preferences. In a way, we are rejecting the works of genres we don’t read. So you have to realize from the beginning that not everyone will like what you write. Nothing personal. It’s just a Universal Truth.
Knowing that “writer’s rejection” is nothing personal doesn’t make it hurt any less though. To us, it IS personal. It’s understandable to feel that way. As writers, we get our stories, our inspiration, our voice, from inside us. It doesn’t get much more personal than that. We pour our souls into our writing, finding the perfect words, creating the perfect characters, describing the perfect scenes and action only to hear that no one else thinks they are “perfect”. We feel like we’ve done our best only to find out that our best isn’t good enough. We get crushed. We wonder what ever made us feel like we could write. We’re not sure if we should continue.
Sound about right?
It’s human nature to feel that way about rejection. So, how do we deal with it? The first thing is to realize that’s it’s normal to feel upset. I don’t think we ever get completely desensitized to the pain of rejection. I do believe it gets easier the further along the writing path you go. Sounds crazy, but I have to compare it to my “day job” of cake decorating. As a new decorator, I felt awful when someone wasn’t happy with their cake. I took it personal. I’ve been decorating many years now and I have a lot more confidence in my work. I know I’m good. I’m not perfect, but I’m damn good. That’s why it doesn’t bother me when some old man walks by and sneers at something I made saying, “I don’t know why someone would buy that gaudy colored cake”. I don’t care that he doesn’t like it. There’s someone out there that will think it’s the most beautiful cake they ever saw. Trust me, it’s happened.
Cake decorating is an art. Writing is an art. You can’t please everyone with it so…
You have to please yourself. That’s who you’re writing for anyway, right?
So how do we get past being upset and continue on? Try stepping back and taking a look at the bigger picture. Does it really matter what this person thinks? If it’s a friend, classmate, coworker…chances are no, it doesn’t REALLY matter. If it’s a professional opinion of a teacher, agent, editor…then yes, it probably does matter. To a point. After the pain has subsided a little, maybe in a day or two, go back and see if they had any valid points that could actually help your work. Use it as a learning experience.
A year ago I joined a local writing group. The first piece of my story that I submitted met with mixed reviews. Some people didn’t like my main characters. I based those two characters on my own children. They thought my boys were awful. On the other hand, there were members who loved them and could identify with them as they had children of their own and my characters seemed very real to them. All this from one small group of people. I loved my characters, so I trashed the opinions of the ones that didn’t like them and kept the praise of the ones who did.
There was only one critique that I got that lacked any constructive criticism and that one bothered me the most. Probably because of the very fact that it lacked anything constructive. It was a comment stating that they didn’t know if a publisher would be interested in what I wrote. I didn’t see the point of that comment. This person was not a publisher and had not had any of their own work published, so I wondered where this opinion came from.
This brings me to discuss the subject of how to ease the sting of rejection when it comes to critiquing others’ work. We want to give an honest interpretation of how we see their work without hurting their feelings. Sometimes I think that’s like trying to mix oil and water. There is no easy way to point out flaws without hurting someone’s feelings or even making them mad.
Case in point, same writing group. Some members of the group received especially critical critiques from one member, causing hurt feelings and anger. There became a rift between certain members. It ended with the upset members quitting the group.
No one (hopefully) wants to be responsible for making another human being feel that way. So, we need to be careful about how we critique others’ work. Find at least one thing about the piece that you can say something positive about. Don’t say you didn’t like it…even if you didn’t. If you have grammatical issues with it, point them out AND correct them. Most likely, the person needs the advice. The same goes for comments about all errors. If you see a problem, make a suggestion about how to fix it. Don’t make negative comments that have no constructive advice to them. That’s not helpful, that’s hurtful. Writers, especially new ones, have fragile egos and need to nurtured, not neutered.
We, as writers, also need to realize that no matter what other people say, we can’t give up our writing. We can’t let others take away our passion. We have to grow a callous. We can’t give up. One of my most favorite quotes is:
“For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest of these, ‘It might have been’.” by John Greenleaf Whittier.
We all want to share our work with others. We all want it to be accepted and praised. We want it to bring out emotions, to make people think, to change the world. We want it to matter. It can. It’s possible. But only if we don’t give up, no matter what anyone says.