It’s World Cup and Wimbledon; hopes are raised and dashed within hours. England, where I currently live, lost a semi-final match last night. I’m encountering a swathe of disappointed English people as I make my way through the day. It’s got me thinking about dealing with rejection. I could run an entire course on this (in fact, sometimes, I think I will). It’s part and parcel of a writer’s life and you need to be robust enough to deal with it. A writer who can’t do rejection is like a boxer who refuses to take punches. Learn a way to handle it, or get out of the ring now.
Some years ago I had a room-mate, lets call him Robert, who was an exceedingly talented writer and a super bright individual. Robert had come from a north of England working class family and had won a scholarship to a top college at Oxford to study law, and then proceeded to get a 1st. In a class ridden society such as England is, this is quite a feat. He then went on to barrister pupilage in London. So far, so successful. He struggled in London however, his working class roots a subtle bar from invitation to the glossiest circles, and he let it get to him. Robert decided to jack the law trade in and devote his time to his hobby, writing prose.
Robert was blessed with a wondrous poetic use of language and could craft very beautiful, visual prose. He also had an instinct for story. Within a year, a short story by Robert, had won a prestigious national prize. The way seemed set for a glittering career as a writer. Robert sent out his first novel manuscript to an agent of his choosing. It was rejected. Robert was speechless and sunk into a depression for a few months. Eventually he rallied round, spent another six months moving commas around pages and plucked up the courage to send it out again. And again it was rejected. This process was repeated a third time, after which Robert hit bottom and decided to never write again – and I learned a valuable lesson by proxy.
Robert’s book was slow-paced and poetic and not to everyone’s taste, but there’s no doubt it was good. It would eventually have been published, had he persevered and found the right agent/publisher. However, Robert could not take rejection, so he didn’t persevere. Following a lifetime of over-achievement, he had unreal expectations and the sense of privilege and entitlement that often accompanies high success at a young age – yes, even for those from working class backgrounds. If Robert had had the skills to roll with the blows, he would have no doubt become a barrister and a published and acclaimed author – but he did not know how to handle rejection, so he gave up. Dealing with the turn-downs is the most important skill a writer needs.