Thursday, April 14, 2016
The Hide of a Rhinoceros
Now that my agent is about to send my manuscript out to various editors, it's time to toughen my hide. The submission process isn't for wimps, I tell ya. In general, though, editors are a pretty tactful bunch. Rejections are often very benign, such as: "It's not right for my list," or "I'm going to have to pass." Passing, as we all know, also happens to be a euphemism for death. No matter how gracious the phrasing, a 'no' is still a 'no' and it hurts.
When we choose the creative life, rejection is part of the deal. The trick--which is much easier in theory than in practice--is to not take any of it personally. To do this, we need to remind ourselves that our work is not us. It comes from us, but it is separate from us. It is not a measure of our worth. When we tie our self-worth to our creations, we are begging for trouble.
Repeat after me: I am not my work.
I am a writer, but I'm also a wife, a mother, a daughter, a friend, a volunteer. Writing is a big part of my life, but it isn't the only thing in it. When my writing isn't going well, I have these other aspects of my life to lean on. Success doesn't have to be tied to money. Some of my biggest successes have come from the volunteer work I've done at our local elementary school. Or from raising my daughters. I chalk those achievements right up there with some of the highlights of my writing career. If I never publish again I know I will be okay (a tad miserable, but essentially okay) because I'm not just a writer, but a whole person.
Not only do we have to detach from our work, we have to recognize that it's imperfect.
I'm sure you can find flaws in ever book you've ever read--and I guarantee someone will find the flaws in your book, too. There will be weaknesses that you know about and others that have never even occurred to you. It's okay. Writing is a learning process for all of us. Submit your work with humility. In the words of my writer friend Howard Waxman, offer up your work by saying, "This is the best work I am capable of at this moment in time." When we are humble, there's no reason to be embarrassed. We are not frauds waiting to be found out--we are artists who are learning, searching, experimenting with our craft.
We need to recognize that failure is an option.
Success is never guaranteed and it is certainly not owed to us. I've been working hard to set my expectations low. It's entirely possibly that my manuscript will not catch the interest of any of the big publishers. So I have a plan B. And a plan C. And I'm already working on something else. And I will continue to write, because that is my vocation. When I was young, I dreamed of literary stardom, because when you're young, everything seems possible. I have some life experience behind me now and I've learned that big publishing success brings along with it big responsibilities. I also know that big success is bestowed only upon a chosen few. If we are to live a creative life, we must be motivated by something other than the conventional definition of success.
So...have I managed to toughen your hide at least a little? Believe me--that pep talk was as much for me as it was for you. I know that I frequently blog about this topic, but it needs to be repeated often. Writing takes a particular type of courage that few people can appreciate. Let's witness it in each other.