Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Rejection Project - Johnny Worthen

There’s a quote from Hemingway I like a lot. One of his most famous ones.

“Write drunk; edit sober.”
 — Ernest Hemingway.

Wait, no. That’s not it. It’s this one:

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” 
– Ernest Hemingway

Writing is a deeply personal thing. I often say though not every book should be published, every book has to be written. That’s because writing is a catharsis. Some projects are full on psychotherapy, the author struggling to understand the universe and their place in it. Issues from their past, troubles in their present, worries in their future. From this in all writing, there is a residue of the maker—a connection and a love.

On any level it is a reflection of the writer, and a rejection of a part of someone is easily translated into a rejection of the whole. This is made doubly difficult for writers who sand down their nerve endings to experience the world more vitally, to be able to experience a universe with keener senses. We are all half mad with it. I know I am. The same mental openness I turn toward an orange sunset, is an unguarded path to my psyche, a way in to depression when I am rejected.

Authors seeking publication are a strange egotistical animal. We tear open our own wounds and then try to sell the bandages. That’s the corollary of Hemingway’s quote.

It is tough business and writers are poorly equipped for it by definition. This is why we all strive for agents, people we believe will stand between us and the ugly unappreciative world, champions who’ll find us our audience, our kingdom and lead us to glory. But alas, that ain’t the case. At least not for me. Rejection has not ended with me getting an agent, she rejects, and the world still stabs through my other unguarded gates.

Even with published books, awards, and fans, the rejections still hurt.

“A boo is a lot louder than a cheer.” — Lance Armstrong

So, what’s there to do?

Press on. It’s all there is.

I either believe in myself or I don’t.

Rejection is a form of criticism and there are three ways to take criticism.

1) “You’re right, I’ll fix that.”
2) “You’re right, I can’t/won’t fix that.”
3) “You’re wrong.”

Unfortunately most rejection is not so specific that we can apply these reactions. Instead we have to guess and assume, naturally, that it’s a complete rebuff of ourselves, our art, our hairstyle and friends. Writers are imaginative. Don’t think we can turn it off easily.

I know, consciously, that this is a very subjective business. Maybe my work was rejected because the editor/agent/assistant was so overwhelmed they didn’t actually read it, never had space in their magazine, publishing schedule, etc. Maybe they read it, but had been visited by three ghosts the night before and hadn’t recovered. Nothing to do with me, but still “no.” Maybe they don’t like my style, setting, first word. This industry is looking for a reason to say no, even if they have no reason.

Rejection is the cost of being a writer: how else could it justify the piddly paychecks and long hours?

I’ve said before that the only way to be a writer, is to be insane. It’s not just having voices in your head (though these are required), it’s holding an unrealistic optimism and stubbornness to keep fighting.

I collect rejections. I’ve got thousands and thousands of them. I hang them up like trophies. Bloody bandages from my literary campaigns. They remind me I’m trying. Beside them, I hang my contracts, to show the victories. I decorate my house in books and book covers, bookmarks and manuscripts.

Sometimes I get really good rejections—explanations, advice and hope, but most of them are condemn my very existence in form letters.

I keep trying, and, I keep writing. It’s the only thing I have control over. Plus, I can’t not write now. It’s as much a part of my life as sleeping, just the opposite really, but just as necessary.

I’ve learned to handle rejection by working through it, writing, and sending five queries out for each rejection I get. I’ve learned to accept them, put them aside, but I sure as hell haven’t gotten used to them. They eat at me like a controlled cancer.

I asked many authors to take part in The Rejection Project, to share their feelings about this ugly underbelly rash of the writing monster, but most of them rejected the offer to participate. <sigh>

I’d like to thank the authors who did take part in The Rejection Project:

When I feel particularly low, I turn to people like these for commiseration. Authors understand.

This is the last official post in The Rejection Project. I’ll put it aside for now, get back to work on other things, keep a stiff upper lip. Smile and pretend I’m not dying inside when the best thing I’ve ever written can’t find a publisher.

I’ll sure I’ll be back here one day, talking about the business and the psychological quirks of authorship, but for now enough is enough.

Love and kisses,
Johnny Worthen

From the peanut gallery:

“I am crying over the loss of something I never had. How ridiculous. Mourning something that never was – my dashed hopes, dashed dreams, and my soured expectations.” 
― E.L. James

“I really wish I was less of a thinking man and more of a fool not afraid of rejection.” 
― Billy Joel

“Was I bitter? Absolutely. Hurt? You bet your sweet ass I was hurt. Who doesn't feel a part of their heart break at rejection. You ask yourself every question you can think of, what, why, how come, and then your sadness turns to anger. That's my favorite part. It drives me, feeds me, and makes one hell of a story.” 
― Jennifer Salaiz

“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me.” 
― Hunter S. Thompson

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