Monday, July 20, 2009

revved up: racing past rejection

Last month, Dear Spouse took me to a local track as part of my birthday treat (he’s a ‘special’ kind of romantic, but at least he remembers the date). I’ll admit, I am not what most would consider a fan, but I don’t dislike it either. I’ll also admit that watching a race in person is a whole other experience compared to the televised snippets played in the background on a Sunday afternoon. In person, the adrenaline can’t help but spike.

Since I take my camera practically everywhere, of course I took photos of the races. Chance timing allowed me to capture this crash.

Why, though, would I possibly find it interesting to talk about a car race on a blog about writing?

It made me think about how writers can be hard on themselves. Prior to being published, an emerging author will get their hopes high, only to feel so low when a rejection comes back. There’s this constant up-down emotional ride that, honestly, doesn’t end once a publishing contract is signed. Since writers are always putting themselves out there, the ups and downs will always follow.

Then, the published writer can be particularly hard on him or herself, once the first contract is signed, as he or she wonders if a second contract will ever happen. She wonders if she’s a one-book-wonder or if readers hated the first book so much it doesn’t matter if a second book will come along since no one will read it anyway. Or, even if these self-doubts don’t come into play, a reviewer will doubt the writer on her behalf, or the editor will question why a contract was accepted, or… any number of imperfect things will happen.

With so many obstacles in the publishing world, with so many ups and downs, it’s a wonder any writer makes it through a day without giving up. Writers are terrible self-critics. Which brings me back to this car crash…

Is a racecar driver only successful when staying on course? Are crashes not inevitable? Are they not expected? Whether a local racer on a small course or a pro at the Indy 500, accidents happen. Drivers go off-course. So do writers.

Racecar drivers know accidents happen but they generally get back on course and finish what they started. So does a professional writer. Whether it’s ignoring a form rejection, or soaking in the advice of a personal rejection, it’s up to the writer to get back on course.

When it comes to writing as a career, an author must always keep the end goal in sight. We can’t let the little spinouts or literary fender-benders slow us down. There will always be downs, but with those come the ups that make it all worthwhile.

There’s no such thing as a perfect race when it comes to writing. The finish line always changes; there is always a new goal to reach. It’s not about coming in first. It’s about getting back on course when we stray off path and not letting a bump on the road completely derail us (oops, mixing metaphors!).

Like racers, a writer needs a good support team. Maybe that includes a spouse and some friends or maybe that includes a critique group or workshop retreat. Use your team to help keep you on track and guide you along your course.

Speaking of support, I was just asked to join this year’s Critique Mania, hosted by Whidbey Island Writers Association. For $25, emerging writers can submit a poem or three pages of prose to be personally critiqued by one of the many wonderful authors who have volunteered their time to support this fundraiser for Soundings Review, the Whidbey Island Writers Association magazine. Not only is this a great way to support a top-notch literary community, it’s also a fantastic way for an author to get detailed feedback on a work-in-progress. Details about the 2009 Critique Mania will be updated on the Whidbey website very soon, so I hope you’ll check it out.

Remember, a writer is not unlike a racecar driver. There are bound to be hits and misses and it’s inevitable that a crash will happen to even the most experienced writer. But by keeping focused, dismissing the negatives, and working with the positives, a writer can learn to tame the self-doubts and cross that finishing line each and every time.

What stumbling blocks have you had to overcome in your career? How have you moved past rejection and kept up your momentum? Please feel free to share your own experiences here. We’ve all been there and most of us will be there again. After all, it’s simply a part of being in the race. The important thing is, is that you’re still in it.


  1. Rejection sucks. I guess it's bound to happen though. I haven't submitted my manuscript anywhere yet, but I regularly submit articles to magazines. And occasionally some editor doesn't see my obvious brillance and rejects sent article. I take that for what it is. Perhaps I missed the mark, perhaps I misjudged what they were after, perhaps I suck, perhaps I can't write....ahhhh! I give myself a moment to work through this list in my head and then I move on. In the end you have to back yourself first. No one will believe in my writing if I don't. That's what works for me anyway. :)

  2. Hi Tabitha,

    Great point. Plus, we can’t always get lucky with our submissions. Not every one of them. Some work, some don’t, and like you said it could be for any number of reasons, some having nothing to do with what we wrote. You’re right, though. If you’re not your own PR person who believes it will happen, no one else will jump in for you.

    Best of luck with your writing and thanks for commenting!

  3. Your post is so on-point, in so many ways. I particularly liked this line… “It’s not about coming in first. It’s about getting back on course…” How true. And, again, you’re correct, it’s easy to get bumped from the straight and narrow. But, new writers just have to go through the process of “hide toughing,” as that is about the only defense you have…that and self-confidence rather than self-doubt. Still, it’s hard, no matter how tough the hide.

    I read with interest your reference to Whidbey Island. I recently moved from Seattle to New Mexico. Just had to get some sunshine into my life. It’s been great so far. I put a link to your blog in my blog roll…hope that’s okay.

    Best regards, Galen

    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  4. Hi Lori. I found your blog through She Writes. So glad I did. This is a great metaphor and one I'll consider in the months ahead as I begin a freelance career and work to get my memoir published. I'm looking forward to reading your work. Come visit me at Catbird Scout.

  5. Hi Galen,

    Absolutely. It’s tough, no matter the experience a writer has under his/her belt. But, like you said, it’s a must to develop that thick skin. Some rejections and disappointments make great learning experiences, but others we need to just let bounce off us. Thanks for sharing your comments.

    And thanks for the link! I appreciate it.

  6. Hi Deb,

    A fellow shewriter! Isn’t that such a great site? I am sure you will find it very resourceful as you break out into freelancing.

    I’m glad you found the comments here useful and I hope you’ll come back again. I look forward to seeing your own progress on the Catbird Scout blog. Best of luck with the freelance and the memoir!

  7. I like the metaphor, but I'm not sure I agree with it. Success for a race car driver is determined by absolutes (seconds, wins, etc.). Such absolutes cannot determine success for a writer, since ours is such a subjective field. Besides, writing is about the process, not the product. Success for me is whether I've had a good day writing. When I start to see it as 'who commented' or 'gave me an assignment' or 'bought my work', I'm in trouble.

  8. You bring up excellent points, Jane. I do think there are *some* absolutes in writing. Like… do I enjoy writing regardless of the ups and downs? Do I get up each day and write (or whatever the routine is)? Do I want to do it for my passion and fulfillment, and not just with the goal of publication? I think those are questions that can, and maybe should, be answered with an absolute: yes!

    To me, staying on course and finishing each race is about writing, not about being published. It’s the act of writing, the dedication and commitment one makes, which – I agree – generally has nothing to do with how other people measure a writer’s success. Publication is, for the most part, uncontrollable. Out of our hands. But what we can do, as writers, is write and submit. Or, just write….

  9. Nice post. My long-standing dark joke about why I so seldom submit work for publication is that publishing posthumously worked for Emily Dickinson so I suppose it will work for me. I am finding that blogging is a great help to me in overcoming my rejection letter phobia.

  10. Ha! That’s great, Laura.

    You’re right, too; blogging is a great way to get out the jitters, be nearly face-to-face with readers, and free yourself into thinking… it’s okay to put myself/work out there.

    I wonder what Dickinson’s blog would have been like…