I’m sure I’ve written about this topic a thousand times already, but I’m going to reiterate it here: the hardest part of writing is keeping your work going after the book is written. That can apply to editing (a long and arduous trek up a Sisyphean hill) or publishing (more labyrinthian than Sisyphean) or even just moving on to the next story. Currently, for me, it’s a little bit of the first two and a lot of a fourth option.
In other words, I’m applying for graduate school.
This involves a fairly simple application, a lot of stressing out over my writing sample, a lot of watching cartoons when I inevitably decide everything I write is terrible, a lot of frantic coffee-induced editing, and the occasional bout of I’ve-got-this optimism. It’s not like I’ve never applied to school before, but this is a school for writing.
It’s one thing to put yourself out there as an author. It’s another to submit your work purely to be judged. Once my application is in, it will be picked apart for all its merits, analyzed against my history as a human being, and returned to me in the form of acceptance or rejection. Yes, it’s just an application, yes, there’s all sorts of politics behind the scenes, but…
…For someone who’s defined themselves as a writer since they figured out what the alphabet was, that’s a serious crucible to get through.
Which leads me to the question of the day: when it comes to rejection (be it from a publisher, a graduate school, whatever), how do you move on? How do you avoid becoming disillusioned if something goes wrong?
I’ve talked before about using your fear as a tool to get through the sting of rejection, and about letting yourself process it in a healthy way. But there’s a difference between processing rejection and keeping yourself going once you’ve gotten through it.
Step One: Do take the time to process.
Trying to push through it (as I often do) isn’t a great way of handling rejection. For one thing, you learn nothing from the whole experience.
So take time. Go through the steps I wrote about in that previously-mentioned post. Read a good book, rant, cry, whatever you need to do. But take the time.
Step Two: Keep moving.
Once you process, get back on the horse.
In the case of writing, do it for yourself. Write something you have no intention of ever showing anyone, write something ridiculous and fun, write something angry and bitter, write something completely self-serving and petty. Whatever. Just write, no pressure, no obligations. Get the block out of the way.
This is a lot easier said than done, sometimes. Situational depression is a hell of a thing to get past. This step might mean you write a page, decide it’s crap, and throw your laptop out the window.
You know what? That’s fine. It’ll put you back the cost of a new laptop (so maybe don’t do that exactly) but at least you did something. You started up again. It’s like exercise: even if you take forty minutes to jog half a mile, you’re still running circles around the people on the couch.
Step Three: Try again.
Once you learn and process, once you rediscover what you love, once you get past all that BS… It’s time to try again. And yes, this is easier said than done, but it’s the only way to really stick it to disillusionment.
Here’s the thing. For someone who hates rejection, I am very much in the wrong business. I’m fairly certain there are few careers with as much rejection as the writing world. You have to grow a thick skin, or you don’t make it. I’m still working on that, and it’s still hard.
But I’m getting there.