As a writer progresses in his craft, he may sometimes wonder how his particular path will look. In this four-part series, Charity Singleton Craig envisions a possible progression of a writing life through the lens of an Olympic snowboarder. In today’s installment, she considers rejection.
Writing in the Half Pipe
The 2014 Sochi Olympics were being broadcast on delay because of the time difference between Russia and the United States. As my husband and I were watching the halfpipe competition, we already knew that Shaun White didn’t win. That’s partly why we had tuned in.
It was a huge disappointment to the 27-year-old American who had been dubbed the “Flying Tomato” early in his career because of his floppy mop of red hair. “I hate the fact I nailed it in practice, but it happens. It’s hard to be consistent,” White told ESPN after the competition. He placed fourth.
He doesn’t wear his curly hair long anymore, though. White’s short, styled cut reveals an older, more experienced young man whose choices reflect both the successes and disappointments of his career. In 2012, White was arrested for public intoxication and suffered a minor head injury. In a New York Times profile, Elizabeth Weil writes that White recently has been known as “the unsympathetic moneybags who crashed his Lamborghini” or the “selfish jerk” who refused to allow other snowboarders to train at his personal halfpipe built for him by Red Bull prior to the 2010 Olympics.
No one questions the enormous successes White has achieved. But the break-out wonder didn’t get as far as he has without being knocked down a few times. That’s the part of the writing life many of us choose to ignore—at our own peril.
Knowing that the publishing industry continues to be difficult to enter doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. What it does mean is that we need a plan that includes more than just an exception clause. It’s true, some of us will become wildly successful against all odds. But it’s foolish to stake a whole career on such a wild bet.
Several years ago, I finished a draft of a book I had been working on for years and whipped up a book proposal just in time for a writers’ conference I was attending. Though I realize now that the proposal wasn’t as good as it could have been, I got the attention of a small publisher. They liked my idea! They would get back with me.
But they didn’t. Not for months. The wait was torturous. The writing I did during that time was stunted. When I finally learned that they would be passing on my book, I didn’t write at all for months. It wasn’t that this one book deal would have sealed my career as a writer, but I had acted as if it would. I had no back up plan, no contingencies. The one big rejection nearly sidelined me.
Make the Most of It
Small early rejections can teach us the hard knocks of the writing life if we let them. Developing survival methods for the small “no’s”—and really, the rejection I described above was small—can help us navigate the larger ones, when the risks are greater and the stakes are higher. Each of us will develop our own methods, but generally, dealing well with rejection requires three things: realistic expectations about the possibility of rejection; reasonable plans B, C, and D for the projects we put a lot of effort into; and relationships with other people (possibly other writers) that can help ease us through the hard times.
After I got back to writing, I learned that rejection usually doesn’t come out of nowhere. The idea I had for the book was a good one, but my writing wasn’t ready. And what the publisher couldn’t have known when they said “no” is that I wasn’t ready either. Not for such a big project. I still have that manuscript somewhere in the recesses of my laptop, and someday I may dust it off and try again. In the meantime, I’ve learned from the experience and am growing my writing life in other directions.
Read more in this series: