On Rejections and Bad Reviews

March 7, 2016

It's a soul-sucking business, writing. Only the strong survive, etc. You tell yourself it's psychologically tough for a reason,  that the daily trial-by-fire tends to weed out the weaklings. Unlike them, you have the intestinal fortitude to march past the voices in the dark forest, the ones who constantly whisper that no one gives a shit about anything you have to say. The truth is closer to: I don't know what else to do. One foot in front of the other. The death march.

 

This is especially true if you're attempting to making a living from your work. Don't quit your day job is an oldie but goodie, and it sifts down like ash from every rejection letter, every bad review, every beta reader who tries to be gentle while explaining why this partiular piece just doesn't really work "as is."

 

Whereas the traditionally employed often have yearly performance reviews, creative types get judged on an almost daily basis. Think about that for a minute: whether or not you are willing to admit it, you get a slight case of Imposter Syndrome every time you sit down in that chair for your annual raking over the coals. Even if the news is good, the anxiety is there for a week beforehand, and if it's bad, it lingers for weeks afterward. Now imagine that feeling every day.

 

The things we produce are our children, every one, and even if my kid can't outrun your honor student, I still love them. I don't like to hear that they aren't good enough.

 

Though I don't really want to admit it, bad reviews, workshop discussions of my stuff, and the ever-higher pile of rejections get to me. Even though I know, deep down, that the advice I get is, at a minimum, worth exploring, and potentially could lead to some really worthwhile improvements in this thing I've created, my initial reaction is that I tend to throw little internal temper tantrums, vowing to destroy all the manuscripts, delete all the files, troll the reviewer and dance on the grave of their burnt-down career. I don't ever do any of that, of course, but it runs through my head, and mostly I don't even try to stop it.

 

I don't know if that's a common response, by the way, but I've seen the fallout when an author has the bad judgement to answer a rejection or a bad review by explaining all the reasons why the reader was wrong.

 

That never ends well.

 

You learn to live with bad reviews, to roll them around in your hand like a misshapen stone and then put them away in your pocket. They don't go away, of course; that weight is always there, creating drag on your forward momentum, adding that element of doubt even when good things happen. Brain weasels. Imposter Syndrome. That old feeling of inadequacy. It sticks, lingering like the old college friend who crashes on your couch for way too long. You can't bring yourself to kick them out because you feel, deep down, like you owe them something.

 

I'm not equipped to put it all out of my mind, to ignore the naysayers and go forward confidently in the direction of my dreams. Those stones are still there, sitting in my pocket every day, so many now that I've lost count. In time, though, I might wear them smooth. Eventually I'll pull them out again and realize that yeah, maybe the reviewer had a point, maybe this thing can be salavaged. Maybe trying it another way will make it better. Maybe I don't have to walk into the water after all.

 

Maybe I can just sit here for a while on the bank, and watch the river go on by.

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