Tips for Writers: Learn “buoyancy” in the face of rejection
I have a writer friend who moderates a private online discussion called R.I.P – Rejection Isn’t Personal. The point of the group is to remind the participants that the writers who get published are the ones who didn’t give up. It’s a crucial point to remember.
Coincidentally, I’ve just read Dan Pink’s book, To Sell is Human, which I discussed in general terms here. The book begins with the notion that these days more and more of us are in sales, whether were actually engaged in selling a product or we’re trying to convince someone of an idea.
Writers, it seems to me, do both. In a chapter called “Buoyancy,” Pink discusses the “ocean of rejection” that people involved in sales face. Staying afloat in the face of that ocean—buoyancy—is one of the essential attributes of effective sales.
Pink breaks buoyancy down a little differently than I’m going to, but there are essentially three elements that I think work for writers.
First, enter the process of submitting your work not with arrogance—“this is the best story ever written”—but with a mixture of confidence (otherwise, what’s the point of getting out of bed?) and humility, asking yourself, “Is this the right market for me?” Second, to the extent possible, surround yourself with positivity. You can’t manufacture acceptances of your work, but you can spend some of your time interacting with positive experiences—friends who understand you and appreciate your work, for example. If you dwell on rejection all the time, that’s going to be a downer, so you need to have some balance in your writing life. The third element is perhaps the most directly applicable to what we do as writers—don’t explain rejection to yourself as “permanent, pervasive, and personal.” It’s not any of those things. And that’s what brought my friend’s R.I.P. discussion to mind. Develop an optimistic view of your rejections—they are temporary, rather than permanent; specific, rather than universal; and external, rather than personal.
Pink also suggests sending yourself a rejection letter before you even submit your work. Anticipate what the editor/agent/publisher might say about your story. List the reasons the work is being rejected, including the irritating phrases we all hate in rejection letters. (Ironically, writing the rejection may help you identify some soft spots in the work you are submitting, so you can strengthen it before you do the real submission.)
And if you don’t want to write your own, Pink refers us to the Rejection Generator Project at http://ow.ly/cQ5rl. Check it out. As if you don’t get enough rejection letters already.
The book has another chapter that writers may find useful, one on pitches, and I’ll do another post about that in the near future. In the meantime, I recommend the book, and if you have a chance to catch Pink speak in person, go for it. He’s both entertaining and, er, persuasive.