The random musings of Kate Grace
I was in sixth grade the first time I was really rejected.
It was a week long whirlwind “going steady” affair with Jonathan Keller. Like most sixth grade relationships, it was a matured game of pretend on our way to actually dating as teens. Because what’s the point of dating in the sixth grade? We never held hands. We never kissed. The biggest moment of our “relationship” was when the seating chart was changed and we chose to sit next to each other.
But the seating chart changed every week, as did the couples. Friday came and a friend (Danna Lorenzetti) pulled me aside and handed me a note written by Jonathan.
“You’re a French restaurant. I’m McDonald’s. It just doesn’t work.”
I sincerely believe the way I responded as that sixth grade girl set a pattern for how I as a teen and adult have dealt with rejection. My response? I didn’t respond.
Don’t get me wrong, the note stung. I cried later once I got home and wasn’t on display for the entertainment of Mr. Debaske’s sixth grade class. But what stung the most were the words left out of the note that my mind inserted.
My mind jumped to every possible thing he could have meant by the “French Restaurant/McDonald’s” metaphor. I was ugly. I was stupid. I wasn’t likable. Mostly that I was ugly, cause a sixth grade girl will find any excuse to think that.
So I was too good for him, or at least that’s the line he put down on paper. On Monday he asked me if I wanted to “Talk about it.” I said “No.” No response, cause what was the point? I wasn’t going to McChange myself in order to buy another week and I wasn’t going to McChange his mind. Besides, any dramatic outburst to relieve myself would play out in the theater of pre-pubescence. The cafeteria. The playground. The school bus.
Screaming in his face would have made me feel awesome. The hundreds of eyes staring at me afterward would not.
Years later in a land far, far away called Manhattan I suffered the most painful, chop-you-off-at-your-knees-and-call-you-Susan-rejection to date. And ironically, it was an aged version of the McDonald’s metaphor.
“I love you too much to be with you. I can’t do that to you.”
…Well thanks for looking out for me!
The next time I was around that man he kept saying, “Is there something you want to talk to me about?’
“No,” I said. “There’s not.”
Because in the end he didn’t feel we were a match, so that became the new reality despite what I thought. And no amount of conversation was going to talk him back into it, and even if it did, I will never be the girl satisfied with a relationship she had to talk someone into.
I bring all of this up because signing on to be a writer is basically enlisting to deal with a double dose of rejection. It’s true of any creative field, but in writing it comes quickly and often.
You are the hero of your story, forced to travel through dangerous terrains in order to finally (if ever) get to your victorious destination of “Published Author.” And that journey can kill you if you let it. I’ve heard countless stories from fantastically gifted writers who were crippled from the rejection they faced and gave up.
Lets just get this out of the way: Rejection sucks. There’s no other way about it. But is avoiding it worth giving up the dream?
Here’s what I believe to be true about rejection. The rejection itself is more often about the one doing the rejecting than about you. However, the way in which you respond to a rejection always has everything to do with you only. It’s for you to hopefully feel better, so you have to make sure you have a means of dealing with rejection that serves that end, but is also constructive.
This is what I propose – just as buildings and cities have Emergency Evacuation Protocols, you should have Emergency Rejection Protocols ready to go before those “I pass” form rejection emails start piling up in your inbox.
And I can’t tell you what your protocols should be. It’s a very personal thing. However, I can tell you what mine are and why with hopes of helping you find yours.
First? I don’t respond. PARTICULARLY if I am angry. There is no faster route to regret then by replying to a form rejection email with “You’ll regret this!” No they won’t, and it’s a small world, and a smaller industry. Do your manuscript a favor and don’t let ego ruin its chances of being picked up. The goal should be to NOT end up as the subject of an Agent’s angry tweet or a SlushPile Hell entry.
Just as with romantic rejection, you need distance from professional rejection in order to bring the boil down to a simmer and gain some clarity. Don’t let erratic emotion speak for you, or for your manuscript.
The only exception to this rule for me is when the person has sent a personalized rejection to a partial or full they obviously spent time reading, and went above and beyond to offer feedback. Then and only then do I respond (but still only after bringing the boil down to a simmer) and I only ever respond with some version of “Thank you for your time and consideration.” Do not deviate.
Second? I feel it. Plain and simple. If you’re feeling hurt there’s no point in trying to mask it as anger or ignore it until it gives up. An emotion needs to run its course. I’m not saying fan the flame, but I am saying allow it to travel its natural trajectory so that things aren’t festering or morphing into writer’s block.
Third? Have friends on standby. My friends Shannon and Tonya know to give me a few days and if I haven’t snapped out of it then they swoop in with their always-spot-on insight and tough love. They throw a few profanities in the direction of my rejector (never in a documented form!) and push me back towards my laptop with a “Go Get ‘Em!” slap on the butt.
Then get back to work.
Fourth? Do something that cheers you up. Whatever quirky little thing it may be, and the more specific the better. I have a long list of things that do the trick, which I compiled with the help of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way a few years back. I paint my nails a quirky color. I watch old home movies. I read a Roald Dahl children’s book. I eat a slice of pumpkin pie with a dollop of whip cream. I walk to the park and swing.
And my personal favorite… I talk to my nieces. Avery is 7 and Addison is 5. They haven’t reached that point where their opinions about others are mostly wrapped up in what that person can do for them. (Admit it… as adults, whether romantically or professionally, this is what it’s all about… “what can you do for me?”) Their opinions are still purely their opinions. And it’s a quick way to start feeling better about yourself.
Last night I called and got Avery on the phone. Actually… Addison answered but it wasn’t long until Avery commandeered the phone and Addison gave up.
Avery: “Hi, Aunt Kate!”
Me: “Hey, Ave! How are you?”
A: “Good, I lost another tooth!”
M: “Awesome! Did you pull it out?”
A: “No, it popped out when Addison punched me.”
Addison: (muffled in the background) “I didn’t punch you.”
M: “Hey, Ave… do mind if I interview you for something I’m writing?”
M: “What do you think about me?”
M: “What’s your opinion of me?”
A: “Oh, um… I think you’re really funny and you’re very loving.”
M: “What do you think about Addison?”
A: (long pause) “Ummmm…. I have to think about that.” (longer pause) “Um, when I tell her to do something for me she does it.”
Okay, so maybe opinions on others always have more to do with the self than anything.
My point is, when it comes to querying and that jagged, pot hole-filled road to being published remember that rejection is just part of it. It is not personal. When they say “I pass” what they’re saying is “You and I are not a match.” That is the new reality.
And don’t let your inner critic or saboteur project anything else onto it. “I pass” does not mean “You can’t write,” “This idea is horrible,” “You’ll never amount to anything,” “You’re a failure,” “You should have listened to your mother and become a doctor,” or whatever other insecurity your shadow self hopes to validate.
And you don’t want to be an author who had to talk their agent into signing them or their publisher into buying them. When they read your manuscript, you want them to feel like it’s a first date gone perfectly!
In romance that’s what we look for… that perfect match that induces butterflies and tummy flips! Why should we settle for less when it comes to literary agents and publishers?
So don’t let rejection chop you off at the knees. Have a plan to proactively combat it and deal with it.
In the end, it’s true. You’re a French Restaurant, dear reader. Don’t settle for a Big Mac.