Friday, August 17, 2007

We're Not Normal

So the other day, my husband was told "no" to something. And he was pissed. Annoyed and peeved too. And a little demoralized. You have understand: my husband is very, very good at what he does, which has lead to success, so rarely, does someone say, "Er, sorry, no thanks to that idea." (Of course, he hears "no" just plenty around our house. Hee.)

He came home and we chatted about it, and I said, "Look, you can't take it personally," and he said, "Of course I can! How can I not take it personally?" And I looked at him like he had ten heads because I'm so used to not taking anything personally in our business that I didn't see how on earth he could consider this personal.

So over dinner, I said, "Let's role play." (No you dirty birds, don't go there.)

He shrugged and said, "Fine."

"An editor told me today that my manuscript wasn't publishable....what would you say?"

"I'd say that he's an idiot," my husband replied.

"Exactly!" I answered, triumphant in my brilliance. "You wouldn't personalize it when it comes to my job, so you shouldn't personalize it when it comes to yours."

He begrudgingly admitted to a sliver of my brilliance and then we moved on. But later, it dawned on me: I think I'm the one with the abnormal reaction, not him. Of course it's rational to feel the sting of rejection rather than just coast past it; of course it's rational to be pissed and annoyed and a little demoralized. But I've been in this business for so long that my armor is basically impenetrable.

And I'll tell you what: I wouldn't have it any other way. While my husband might not get rejected very often in his line of work, in our line of work, it's inevitable. It doesn't stop just because you've landed national magazine stories or even published your first novel. And I've repeatedly said it on this blog, but I'll say it again: if you have a thin skin or take rejection personally, even if it might be slightly personal, this isn't the industry for you. Because you know, sure, every once in a while, that rejection just might be personal, but guess what? You don't have the luxury to consider that it might be, because, that, my friends, is a slippery-slope. If you spend time trying to sort through the intricacies of what all the various rejections mean - are they personal, are they not, do they hate you, do they hate the work? - you'll spend far too much energy and effort focused on the negatives and eventually, it will suck away at both your self-confidence and your writing.

Which is why I've developed an emotional moat: nothing's getting through to me unless I let it. And sure, that might not be normal, but it's what you need to get by as a writer. My husband's not a writer, so for him, sure, he can feel that sting, but honestly, I can't afford to. My ego and confidence would be bloodied on a daily basis.

So...what do you think? Are writers normal or not when it comes to rejection and how we cope with it?


Anonymous said...

I think that successful writers evolve into people who can look at rejection as an opportunity. It's either the opportunity to rewrite a piece or to find a different home for it. I always say I'm wallpapering Rhode Island, one rejection letter at a time. I keep my sense of humor and consider it part of the business of writing.

Nope, nothing normal about it! :-)

Sue said...

My husband would say writers aren't normal people in any way :) but he's an engineer and I say the same thing about him.

I think the ability to avoid taking rejection personally is what separates successful writers from wannabe writers. I've talked to my share of people who claim they want to be freelancers but are afraid to send anything out because "what if the editor says no." If you can't handle "no" on a regular basis, then you need another line of work.

Trish Ryan said...

I'm not sure that we're normal at all, but we're adaptive :) I'm still pretty thin-skinned, but I've developed coping skills that help me get over it. As strange as it might sound, I try to face rejection with the words of a car wax commercial I remember from when I was little: "Rain just beads up and rolls off!"

Unknown said...

Great post, Allison! I'm like you -- I don't let rejection get to me. If an editor doesn't respond to me, my attitude is "Their loss" and it's off to the next thing.

It's kind of funny that many writers feel like they've got the corner on rejection. I'd hate to be a comedian or an actor, for example. Getting booed off the stage or told that your nose is too big or butt is too fat for a role -- that kind of rejection makes a ding letter look like a cake walk.

Larramie said...

How true that writers are able to suffer rejection in private, but still I think most of those "unpublished" are quite sensitive. What they need is your emotional that image and its benefits.

Anonymous said...

How funny -- I have had almost identical discussions with my husband! I don't know if writers are more or less normal than other people, but I do think that, in some ways, we have much healthier self-esteem than people who don't encounter rejections almost every day. Like you said, there's just not time to feel every rejection AND do our life's work. It's one or the other, and I know which one I prefer.

Thanks for a great and thoughtful post!