September 22nd, 2014

When Rejection is Necessary, or I Reject All the Fear

Heather Webb

Heather Webb SmilingThe most detested word in the publishing industry, perhaps even in the English language (we writers might argue) is rejection. Even saying it aloud gives you a nasty swirling in your stomach. Whether it be from agents and editors, or readers and reviewers, the word itself embodies our deepest darkest fear—we aren’t good enough. When the “R’s” begin to pile up, we sink into the sludge that mires us deeper in our fears and that horrible message becomes louder, crippling us.

As I’m working on book three, this fear of the dreaded “R” sits on my chest like a fat cat—even after two contracted books at a large publisher. Even with the overwhelming good fortune of having a network of writer friends I’m proud and blessed to call my tribe. I’m pushing the envelope, you see. In my first novel I mashed up historical fiction, women’s fiction, and romance. My second, I skipped ahead to another era and fell in love with a lesser known artist figure and her struggles with madness. Now, I’m taking on a well-known story and turning it on its head. No biographical route for me this time.

Some serious genre pushing.

But WHY I ask myself? Why must I stick my neck out, push my craft to the point of almost physical pain. Why must I risk my publisher saying “no thank you” to this next book, and the one after that.

The answer is simple.

I can’t avoid the challenge, the tugging in my soul that pushes me to grow—in spite of the quaking in my knees. Reach higher, my heart says. Create better, it begs. INSPIRE MORE. Yet I don’t know if I will succeed and this terrifies me. I know many of you know what I’m talking about. You struggle as I do to get a hold of this nasty thing called fear. So what does one do?

Find Your Center
Work on the exercises that bring you to a deeper, centered you. For me, that’s running or biking until the jitters are gone and you can breathe again. Whether it be meditation or exercise, or sketching or journaling, every writer needs a way to disconnect from the voices in your head. Plus you get the added bonus of all that meditative activity adding years to your life.

Put the Risk in its Place
In the grand scheme of life, how does this risk rate? Is it life-threatening, or life-altering? Will it obliterate your reputation or your self-worth? Will it destroy important relationships around you? If the answer is no to these questions, POWER ON. Take the risk and don’t look back. If it’s yes, it’s time to evaluate that risk. Weigh the pros and cons and remember—regrets will follow you your entire life.

Use a Lifeline
My friends are my lifeline—both my writer buddies and my “real life” friends who understand nothing about the pressures in publishing. Sometimes you need both to balance you out, to remind you of all you have accomplished. To remind you of the simple goodness that is you.

Revel in the Risk
What is life without taking chances? A safe, boring affair that passes you by in a cloud of regret. Get a hold of your fear by the throat. REJECT HOW IT RULES YOUR LIFE, YOUR DECISIONS. Embrace the thrill of being bold, of striking out, and of being the best version of yourself—your best writer self. I’m trying like a mad dog. I hope you are, too.

I leave you with a beautiful poem by Emily Dickinson. It’s called HOPE.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

There is always HOPE and ADVENTURE when taking a risk. Don’t let the fear ruin all that beauty. I, for one, am choosing to banish it.

Have you ever branched out, far from the core safety of your tree to write something edgy or different? How did you tackle your fears?

Becoming JosephineAbout Heather

Heather Webb is an author, freelance editor, and blogger at award-winning writing sites WriterUnboxed.com and RomanceUniversity.org. Her first women’s historical, BECOMING JOSEPHINE, about the life and times of Josephine Bonaparte set to the backdrop of the tumultuous French Revolution, and her forthcoming novel, RODIN’S LOVER, about art, love, and the lines between obsession and madness releases from Penguin in January 2015.  Heather is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and she may also be found teaching craft-based or publishing industry courses at a local college. Find her on Twitter: @msheatherwebb or her website: www.heatherwebbauthor.com/

26 comments to When Rejection is Necessary, or I Reject All the Fear

  • Great post, Heather. I think fear is at the base of every writer malady – from writer’s block to refusal to fire (submit).

    I’ve always been the type that thinks if I can do it, it’s too easy. That’s what keeps me pushing the limits of my fear. Once I know I can do it, it no longer interests me.

    A blessing, and a curse, all rolled into one!

  • I just wrote about rejection on my blog as I begin to send out query letters regarding my first book-a memoir. Your post takes an upbeat and positive look at rejection that I find more helpful than my own negative belief. I will work on a change of attitude.
    Thank you.

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      Marianna, you have to keep a positive attitude. The query phase will suck everything out of you if you don’t. One thing I was told when I started querying and wanted to crawl back into my cave — each no gets you one step closer to a yes. The rejections aren’t personal even though it feels personal. If you look at them as learning opportunities instead of “rejections,” they’re not nearly as frightening.

    • Marianna, I agree with what Orly said. Keep at it! Assuming your craft is strong, you really are looking for the perfect match when looking for an agent. There’s a lot of truth to comparing it to dating. You want someone who falls in love with your book and you, someone who is willing to go to bat for you. That takes some time. Hang in there!!!! And maybe consider going to a con to pitch in person, if you can. It takes you out of the slush pile.

  • I have just done some serious genre pushing with my latest novel and have received six rejections from literary agents so far. Each one contains extremely complimentary comments about my writing, followed by a big “but” … they can’t think which publisher they’d send it to.

  • Orly Konig-Lopez

    Love this post, Heather! Thank you so much for being with us today! It’s a great way to start the week. I’m with you, choosing to focus on the hope and adventure in this crazy journey. 🙂

  • Lanice James

    Great posting – motivation! Thanks

  • I think rejection is particularly unpleasant because it sucks on so many levels. Not only does it cause self-doubt, it also makes us feel like frauds. You tell everyone you are a writer, yet you get rejected all the time. Maybe they will think you are a clueless dreamer (possibly true) at best, and a pathetic, deluded idiot at worst (not true). On top of that, it’s like someone is shining a spotlight on your insecurities. “Crap. Now people in the publishing business think I suck!”

    However, most people are thinking about their own hang-ups and insecurities, not yours, and folks in the publishing business who reject you probably forget you exist within five minutes because you are the stuff of short-term memory for them. You could probably query a different piece the next day without anyone realizing it is the same writer.

    Writing for publication: Not for the weak!

    • Very well said, Eric. A clueless dreamer and a deluded idiot…I remember feeling that way in particular, when I first started telling my friends and family that I was a “writer”. The look that would cross their faces really tweaked me. It said, “Yeah, sure. Good luck with that. Everyone wants to write a book.” But I bucked up and pushed through the angst and fear and hurt. It’s the only way to seize any dream, frankly. Publishing is no different.

      Thanks for your comment, and hey, power on. Looking forward to seeing your stories circulate.

  • Thank you for these great points, Heather. Your books sound great! And I love seeing Emily Dickinson’s Hope here. Gave me chills.

    The risk I’m taking right now is writing my first novel in a genre I adore. Feels a bit like getting sucked into a whirlpool, or falling in love. So thank you for the great reminders to have courage.

    • Hooray for falling in love! I fall in love all over again, every time I start a new book. Sometimes it comes swiftly and others, my characters have to court me. That’s the case with my current work in progress. Sending you loads of courage!!!

  • Writing anything for me (and most writers) is a rejection of fear. We aren’t paid up front for our craft, but gamble our time, talent and energy on a career that may or may not lead to something. Writers are some of the bravest—and craziest—people I know. We have to be; no sane person would do this job! 🙂 But dealing with rejection can be very difficult, though my experience has been fairly limited. Not because of success, but because I have yet to stick my proverbial neck out too far. That’s about to change as I’ll be querying my novel very soon. After that, I will have a much better grasp on the pitfall that is rejection.

  • Heather, thanks for this great post and for quoting one of my favorite poets. I am still at the submission stage … editing and “fixing” what I thought was wrong with one book, while I continue to write another. My way of dealing with all of this insanity is to keep writing and I craft. When my hands are busy, my mind is at rest. Then I can go back and tackle the work again.

    About genre pushing … I will always be in that particular boat. I write in different genres as a rule, not just on a whim. I toggle back and forth between forms of romance or WF to mysteries and suspense. I have even taken a trip into the spirit world.

    The greatest challenge we all face is to continue to write. Tomorrow is my birthday and I am sure I am heads and years above so many who come here, many who I call writer friends … I came to this life late and often I ask myself … why didn’t you just stick to crafts or find a less complicated way to spend your retirement? But no matter how late this passion grabs us, no matter how long it takes to realize the dream, it is worth every second. Thanks again and keep experimenting with your voice 🙂