I was reading a recent issue of EW (aka: my bible) on vacation, and saw this lovely interview with Matthew Weiner, who is the creator of the incredible show, Mad Men. I'm transcribing it below because I thought it opened up a really valuable discussion to have here at AA.
Here's what he said.
1) He realized he wasn't smart - yet. "I started looking at people whose careers I wanted - David Chase, Woody Allen - and saw that I was not on that path.)
2) He said no. "I turned down a contract at Becker, even though I had no other job. It proved that I was uncompromising. Or crazy."
3) He made stuff. "I wrote the Mad Men script to show what I could do."
4) He never gave up. "It takes hundreds of no's to get a yes. How many networks are there? That's how many no's I got."
5) He played nice with everyone. "My Mad Men script was given to AMC by my manager's former assistant. Taking your aggression out on anyone will always come back to bite you. Sometimes in the parking lot after the meeting."
So why did I take the time to post this interview? I thought that Weiner shares some pretty valuable tips on having the guts and survival instinct to hang in there for many years of moderate, though not showstopping success. But I also think his fourth point raises an interesting question that we don't often discuss here at AA, because I'm all about the positivity. But that question, and I hate to say it, but it's an important one, is: how do I know if these hundreds of rejections are simply part of the process or are a larger sign that I might not have what it takes?
Here's the truth: if you speak with agents and editors (and I have), all of them, when they're being honest, will tell you that a good many aspiring writers have no business hoping to move from aspiring to published. Obviously, writing is a subjective thing, and what is good to one person will certainly suck for another (just read any author's reviews and you'll see a wide range), but on the whole (and yes, there are exceptions, where universally, everyone says, how the hell did that get published), most published writers have a certain something that appeals. I don't know what it is. An innate knack? An innate voice? A very well-learned skill? It's really difficult to say, especially to say without coming off like a pompous ass, but again, the hard truth of this business, much like acting or any other artistic profession, is that not everyone is created equal. This is not a Montessori-like business where everyone is given and deserves a shot. (Says the mom who sends her kids to Montessori, so I'm certainly not knocking that educational method!)
How do you know if you have what it takes? That's where it gets tricky. Because I, for one, don't know the answer. Rejection, as noted above by Weiner, is so much a part of our business that it's difficult when to take something personally. I, of course, always tell you guys NOT to take stuff personally because, after all, this is a business. But never, ever, ever taking something to heart might mean that you're ignoring warning signs that, well, maybe this isn't the industry for you. I don't know. I know authors who have gotten 100s of rejections and finally landed an agent. I know authors who have gotten one yes at a publishing house after every other place rejected him/her. But I also know plenty of people who have never gotten that yes. Does it mean that they won't ever? No, of course not. But when (and why and how) do you draw the line? Because, let's be honest at the most pure level, some people are better simply writers than others. (Again, this feels very weird to say without coming off like an ass - and please know that I'm certainly not elevating myself here! I'm just opening up this discussion). How do you know if you're one of them? Again, tough call. I think being objective about your own work, as I've discussed in the past, is incredibly difficult, and sometimes, finding anyone who will be objective about your work and tell you the truth is incredibly difficult. Not to mention that again, many things are subjective, so one person's trash is another's treasure.
I don't really have any sagacious answers here. But I do think it's worth talking about. Certainly some people write for the pure pleasure of it, but others will chase the dream of being published for their entire lives, and if you do chase that dream...would you want to know if you just weren't going to cut it? Or alternatively, how DO YOU know that you weren't going to cut it? (I'm not saying that one poor manuscript won't give way to a better one - it happened in my case and has happened with countless writers I know. But yes, there are aspiring writers out there who are never going to leap the hurdle.) So how do you know?