Faith, Hope and Rejection
No, Charity is not being suspended or replaced from the triumvirate of virtues, and rejection is certainly not a virtue. The word originated in 1415 and meant “to throw or throw back.” And yes, a rejection does feel like someone threw something at you squarely hitting you upside the head. Yet, how one deals with rejection might be virtuous.
Lately, I’ve been submitting short stories to magazines, and it goes without saying that the rejection notices have been trickling in the mail. Now, having been in the arts all my life as a musician and composer, it’s no secret that the arts are highly subjective and personal. What is outstanding and wonderful to one person may not even show up on another’s radar. For that reason, I do not enter contests, especially ones that require an entry fee. That’s not to say I don’t have faith in my writing (we’ll get to that virtue soon), but if I’m going to gamble, I believe my odds would be better at a casino…and it’s a lot more fun.
Over the years, my skin has gotten tougher. I don’t wallow in self-pity as much when I get a rejection (okay, I allow myself a small pity party with blacks balloons, and streamers, then move on.) Heck, I feel I’m in good company to know that the likes of Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Stephanie Meyer all got their share of manuscripts turned down.
A funny thing happened on the way to a recent short story that I submitted. One editor loved the ending, but didn’t like the characters and their back-story. Another editor loved the characters and the buildup, but felt the ending was too rushed. (I was trying to keep it in the normal word count for a short story.) One editor felt it was overwritten. I’m still trying to find out what that means. Then, an editor said, “I read The Frame with interest. You know, I like it. I could guess the ending before I got there, but your writing style and character development made up for that. A nice story. It kept my interest and I enjoyed reading it.” She is publishing the story in an October issue of The Horror Zine. Needless to say, I was ecstatic. I look at the whole process like fishing. Through it out there and see what bites. The whole journey with that short story pretty much summed up the highly subjective nature of the publishing business. It also confirms what I believe about life in general that it is all about sheer luck. It is something I refer to as “the lucky stick.” Some folks are just in the right place, at the right time, and get hit up side the head with “the lucky stick.” Others just have to keep plugging away.
Artists in general probably deal with rejection on a reoccurring level much more so than other fields. Sure when a person is job hunting, they are faced with rejections, but once they land the gig, they don’t face rejection on nearly a daily basis. No matter what, it’s hard on our fragile psyche to endure someone telling you they don’t want your work. Still, the artist learns how to handle rejection, and becomes quite proficient in pushing it away.
One last thought about rejection from editors/publishers—the actual rejection notice. The most impersonal and probably the one that hurts the most is the dreaded form letter/email. I mean with the push of the button, someone can dismiss you with no reason or feedback. I would rather get a few sentences why an editor didn’t like the story. What I have learned from the outcome of my short story above is that it all boils down to is personal taste. Okay, so the editor didn’t like the story. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad story, and that I should start rewriting or just throw it away. It’s one person’s opinion. The whole rejection scene reminds me why I don’t listen to film, theatre, or music critics. When they critique a film, they are giving their opinion. Big deal. I’d rather make up my own mind. A good example of how subjective and how off base the evaluation process can get occurred with last year’s Oscars when “The Hurt Locker” won best picture over “Avatar.” Let’s see…one picture was a financial and box office disaster while the other has a firm place in cinematic history. Now you see why I don’t enter contests?
As for the other real virtues---faith and hope, I think for a writer or anyone in the arts, they are vital and imperative for one to embrace tightly. Starting with faith, I’ve come to learn that it’s so important to have faith in one’s writing, composing, or any artistic pursuit because by putting yourself out there for evaluation from such a personal and subjective evaluation process, it is inevitable that rejection tries to needle and cast doubts into a writer or any artist. In the early stages of one’s writing career, faith gets attacked and bombarded constantly from rejections. At times, I don’t even want to open my email. So, how does one keep that faith going? I’d say initially it’s having a champion in one’s corner such as a spouse, close friend, or relative. Then, getting that first acceptance is by far the biggest shot in the arm that goes along way to bolster, fortify, and validate one’s faith and confidence in their writing, even if its just for exposure and no royalty. Yet at times, it is still hard to maintain a positive outlook when the rejections start coming in at a faster rate than an acceptance. When I got my first acceptance, I floated off the ground at least a foot for days, then reality came back and I had to get the skin thickened once again. Faith in my ability as a writer at this point has gotten stronger, and it is keeping me optimistic. I think also realizing that the rejections are just a single person’s opinion and not dogma.
As for hope, that is the virtue that keeps us writing, painting, composing, etc. Hope might be a close relative of dreams. We all have dreams within our artistic pursuits whether it’s fame, lots of money, or just acceptance with someone saying they really enjoyed your work. Hope provides the food for our dreams. Recently, I’ve thought that I didn’t have any dreams left. That all my dreams have turned to regrets. In the short story, The Frame, that did get accepted for publication, I wrote this about the character waking up on his sixty-third birthday, “Today, it made him think of an old quote from John Barrymore who once said, ‘A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.’” Well, I am dreaming again and it is directly a result of hope. If we abandon hope, give up dreaming, then all we have left are regrets and we are old. I like the idea that if we keep dreams alive in us, then we stay young.