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In A Certain World: A Commonplace Book, W. H. Auden writes, “For an adult reader, the possible verdicts are five: I can see this is good and I like it; I can see this is good but I don’t like it; I can see this is good and, though at present I don’t like it, I believe that with perseverance I shall come to like it; I can see this is trash but I like it; I can see this is trash and I don’t like it.”
While this is a great truth, it becomes a anxiety attack waiting to happen when it’s your writing under judgement, knowing one of these five results will happen. Unfortunately, I think many aspiring writers only accept one response as positive: “I can see this is good and I like it.” I wish this wasn’t the case, but it seems to be true the more I talk to writers. Rejection is hard, and it always will be, but we can learn how to handle it in a way that is healthy.
I have discussed this before. In my post Writing Tips: How to Handle Rejection, I commended John Tompkins for his positive (and hilarious) attitude towards rejected query letters, but I failed to address how I personally deal with such instances.
However, I’d rather not talk about query letters and/or agents, because I look at that as business, and, for me, those rejections are easy to write off, because there’s always another approach to business, and I don’t take it personally. As I said before, it’s business.
BUT–I wanted to talk about another kind of rejection: the reader rejection. This is when readers read your work and respond negatively, often publicly, and there’s nothing we, as the writer, can do about it. I’m often okay with this. In fact, I advocate listening to critics, because I’ve learned some of my best lessons by taking a step back and listening, but I still have my days, and I wanted to show an example.
As many of you know, I’m taking a Nonfiction Writing I course this semester. Honestly, I thought it’d be more memoir writing than essay writing, but, nevertheless, I am in the course, and we turned our first essay in to workshop awhile ago. We were supposed to write about something personal and riveting, so I chose, knowing it’s still a sensitive subject, to write about my roommate’s recent death and compare it to my mother’s.
Here’s the piece: In Memoriam.
And here are my top three negative comments:
1. I don’t want a guilt trip. It seemed too forced, the pity was weakening the audience. I don’t know. Not that complex.
2. Too pep-talky. Blase ending took me out of the story. Very self-centered.
3. This is a nice sentiment, but we’ve seen it so many times before that it’s lost its effect. It almost feels like your trying to establish your authority as a writer rather than just letting the essay stand on its own. The first and last paragraph had nothing to do with the essay, bragging.
I won’t lie. At some point during my drive home, I was in tears, because I couldn’t believe that fellow students would find my dedication to turning grievance into passion was selfish and/or bragging. I felt like they had attacked my personal growth and everything I have been striving for since my mother died when I was eleven. Furthermore, I was astounded by the fact that many of these students didn’t say this to my face, but remained silent in the classroom. I would’ve liked the opportunity to ask them why they felt that way (because you do get a chance at the end to speak), but I don’t know if I could’ve spoken. I was too emotional, and, when I took a step back, I realized why.
I wrote about something I was not ready to write about. Even more, I immediately allowed my emotions to react; not my thoughts. When I took a moment, I realized their “bragging” statements were more directed at the beginning when I listed off accomplishments, which I should’ve explained as a conclusion. I also needed to consider my audience. It’s entirely likely many of my fellow 20-year-old’s haven’t lost a loved one to death. It’s also (more) possible that they have a completely different reaction towards death than I do, which is completely understandable. Even though the essay was an assigned personal essay, I think I made it too personal by focusing on me instead of the audience, and, in the end, that was selfish, but I’d rather call it misdirected. I’ve never written nonfiction essays before, and I’m learning how to do so still. Of course I’d be critiqued at the beginning; even if I was a professional I’d be critiqued. And I had to remind myself that before I imploded with misunderstood emotions.
So how did I cheer myself up?
After a healthy dinner with my father, I looked over everything again, but, this time, I concentrated on the good comments. I realized there were more “Great job!” than I thought, and I really focused on appreciating the complements, rather than the hurt.
Here are my top three positive comments:
1. Thanks for sharing! I know it must be hard for you to carry these loses with you for the rest of your life. I know it’s hard, but I also know how inspiring it can be as a writer. Keep striving for the preservation and ultimately your understanding.
2. I loved the candor with which you spoke about their deaths. Your level-headed recounting of events is incredible. You’re not bemoaning your life, which actually gives me greater sympathy. Really strong ending.
3. This is such a brilliant outreach to the audience. And to be quite honest, I needed to hear this. This was a beautiful piece to read. Consider sharing the title of your YA sci-fi novel because I’d love to read it. Looking forward to your other essays!
Next time, when rejection gets you down, try to remind yourself that one rejection doesn’t define all of your success. In fact, it only furthers your range of success by pushing you to achieve more. I have moments where my emotions take over, and I think that’s perfectly normal. After all, we are human, and we’re very exposed humans when we throw our art out for all to see. But we must realize that judgement will come, and it’s up to us to decide what to make of it.
As I took grieving and created passion, I will focus more on taking rejection and making success.
This is how I will handle it, and I hope opening up about my experience will help others see they are not alone, along with encourage them to continue to follow their dreams, even when they are hurting.
Another thing I love to do when I’m feeling down is to return to those beautiful moments in life when everything seemed right. This is me in Puerto Rico in May, 2012. It was one of the best trips of my life, and I know it’s only a memory away from reminding me what happiness is like.
March 25: Shannon Summary: Six Months In