Chapter six in a series on Book and Art Business 101 wherein I show how the solid logic of art business sold me on self-publishing. If you’re too busy for the whole series, download your copy of my Cheat Sheet for Book and Art Business 101.
I grew fascinated in this time with rejection slips — with feeling rejected and with the feel of rejection slip paper.
It was, in retrospect, something of a holy masochistic pleasure — that “pleasure out of pain” Chesterton referred to in his dedication to The Man Who Was Thursday:
Not all unhelped we held the fort, our tiny flags unfurled; Some giants laboured in that cloud to lift it from the world.
I find again the book we found, I feel the hour that flings
Far out of fish-shaped Paumanok some cry of cleaner things;
And the Green Carnation withered, as in forest fires that pass,
Roared in the wind of all the world ten million leaves of grass;
Or sane and sweet and sudden as a bird sings in the rain—
Truth out of Tusitala spoke and pleasure out of pain.
Yea, cool and clear and sudden as a bird sings in the grey,
Dunedin to Samoa spoke, and darkness unto day.
But we were young; we lived to see God break their bitter charms.
God and the good Republic come riding back in arms:
We have seen the City of Mansoul, even as it rocked, relieved—
Blessed are they who did not see, but being blind, believed.
What I mean is this: I had learned that rejection would not kill me, but would make me stronger. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?” That’s a nihilistic thought from Neitsche, by the way. I should add to it: sometimes the rejection would kill me — kill my dreams, my aspirations, my momentum, my desire to write. And then I would find myself resurrected from the ash of that forest fire that had passed to write again by the Being who donates being to the universe — ten million leaves of grass from ten million worlds roared into my life again. I am a storyteller. To deny myself another try is, in part, to deny a piece of my own being. So rejection killed me. And then I came alive and found myself stronger, gifted with a new position on the battlefield somewhere beyond the throes of death.
Learning to deal with rejection goes beyond merely learning patience, learning what the ancients called “long suffering.” It’s that whole for the joy set before Him, he endured bit. Suffering to what end? We are all, all of the time, looking for the meaning in our suffering. As a Christian, I had a pretty solid theological answer for the problem of pain, but that answer had yet to manifest itself in my own existential crisis at the precise moment of each rejection.
Feeling rejected, early on, became something of a crippling force.
It stopped me. And then I would have to start turning the flywheel again, start building momentum like a donkey on a millstone to be able to get anywhere. And then, in that death, I suddenly came alive once more. I discovered that the rejection would point me back to my core and in my core, there was an internal scorecard. The first time I found it, it felt like Christmas. I actually felt joy at receiving a rejection slip because I immediately went back to the work and asked: Does this new piece grade well on your internal scorecard? Early on, almost every time the answer was “no.” In which case I would return to the work and fix what was broken or scrap the work and try again.
I was probably on my third time through Stephen King’s On Writing in this time and enchanted by the idea of hanging my rejection slips on a wall so I drove a nail into my upstairs and mimicked King. And I too eventually had to get a larger spike — a massive roofing nail — to hold it all up. And I too found that the more I paid attention to that internal compass, that internal scorecard, the more I started getting personal notes and acceptances, sometimes from the strangest of places. The McSweeney’s piece, for instance, was written in an hour and sent immediately without revision. I don’t recommend this, but somehow I knew on that one. I got an email that afternoon.
The point is the compass. I’ve dabbled in other things and the same process will happen: first timid from rejection with a lot of stops and starts, then a general apathy for what people say to you unless it relates directly to that internal compass. You must become unknowing and uncaring in regards to your success. Have integrity and move forward.
The internal compass is integrity. Integrity of soul. Integrity of mind. Integrity of work and the goals you’re after. You will come to love rejection as much as a basketball player loves having a coach.
But sometimes in feeling rejected you will find yourself pointing westward in a direction you did not intend to go:
The way your internal compass has pointed all along.
I’ll talk about this more in the Author Earnings section, but suffice to say with this most recent novel, I kept getting feedback from agents who would say, “I was excited to read this, but it needs an editor for the final polish” or “The novel really sticks with me, but it needs an editor” or “You have some really great things going, but hire an editor.”
Those rejections coupled with my internal compass pointed out my future path…
Don’t have time for the whole series?
That’s okay, I made you a…
Here’s our outline for upcoming posts:
- The Gateway Drug: Poetry
- Does Fiction Lie? — The Liar’s Club
- Where and How to Sell What You Write
- From Daydreams to Written Dreams
- Rejection Slips
- Any Money Makes a Professional Writer
- Quarterly Assignments
- Making Good Money… in a shadow career
- Kinfolk and Advocates or “How to Build a Platform”
- Draconian Contracts
- Author Earnings
- Succeeding for Others
- Blaze a Trail All Your Own
cover image is Courbet’s The Artist’s Studio, 1855