It's a cruel beast, one that strikes through the heart of even the most stalwart person. Writers must be gluttons for punishment because our profession, by nature, is fraught with rejection. I've been asking for it myself for over a year now, as I've queried agents and submitted my non-novel stuff around to everyone who'll read it. I've heard "no" more times than I can count.
And it never gets easier, not even when the no's are accompanied by apologies and compliments and offers to try again with something new. Even the form rejects hurt, making us think--what, I'm not good enough to reject personally? And how about the ones that say this is good but it doesn't fit my list/this issue/our publication? It's still a no. And it bugs us.
All these no's make it hideously easy for writers to doubt themselves. I used to wonder sometimes why I hadn't developed a complex.
I wonder today if, in fact, I have.
Like most working writers (I hope so, at least) I have an email compulsion. I need to check and re-check and re-check often, hoping for a return on a query or a submission. I even developed a sort of separation anxiety since my day job is a twelve-hour shift without internet. It had become so difficult to endure the day job-email blackout that I got a data plan on my phone. (And then I got a new phone because it was too hard to read mail on my Crackberry. Go figure.)
On my way out of work, I downloaded my mail to find new messages. Yay! I had that tiny thrill of happy-happy that momentarily satisfies my email compulsion. Even better when I saw two emails from a journal I'd submitted to back in October. Of course, doubt strangled my excitement and the first thing I thought was, Oh great. Rejections. And sure enough, the first one was a form rejection. Boo.
Why bother checking the other right now? I thought. After all, it wasn't like the other had a subject that read BUT THIS ONE WE LOVED! Being a sadist, however, I decided to read it and get it over with, so at the first stop light, I hit retrieve.
By the time the light changed, I'd noticed it was still downloading. Fantastic, I thought. So much for painlessly ripping off that Band-Aid. The connection was murderously slow. Figures. This rejection was really going to make me work for it. I canceled the download and started over as I headed over the mountain.
Fifteen minutes later, though, it was still only half downloaded. What the hell? Curiosity consumed me. I pulled over and checked the file size of the rejection. Eight MB. Ok. I checked the other one. Thirty-two hundred. Ooooo-kay. Which could mean…maybe not a rejection after all.
Here's where the whole I-think-I-have-a-complex comes in. I instantly began to doubt it could be good news. But I didn't have just any old doubt. Oh, no. This was Writer's Doubt to the nth degree.
Over the course of the next ten minutes, I went through a series of stages of doubt that ranged from maybe it's a form rejection and a copy of their newsletter to maybe it's a rejection and a copy of their submission guidelines with a warning to follow them next time. By the time I got home, I'd reached the confidence-crippling final stage of it's got to be a list of reasons why they're rejecting it accompanied by a wav. file of all the editors chanting YOU SUCK! YOU SUCK!
It took a while to get up the nerve to turn on my laptop and actually read the message. My heart was in my throat and my anxiety was so palpable the dog hid under the table and whined.
Stupid doubt. My poem "Blackened Madonna" had been accepted by Ghostlight Magazine and the email contained the contract. Whew. Talk about dodging a bullet. I chuckled and sank bonelessly onto the couch, promising myself that, next time, I won't doubt myself to the point of neurosis.
But eh, who am I kidding? I may write fiction but I can't kid myself into believing that fantasy.