Sometimes I wish I were Stephen King.
Not because of his best-seller, best-beloved author status, or because he can write full time while most of us need day jobs. (Although all of those things would be nice.) It’s because back when he was getting rejection letters, it was the 1970s. He got so many that he collected them in bunches on a spike in his writing room; he could have wallpapered his office with them. But, unlike today’s writers, he got all of those rejections in the mail. That meant that he only had to gear himself up once a day to look in the mailbox. He could spend the whole morning putting himself in the right frame of mind, so that when he opened that box, he was ready for whatever came.
We don’t get that luxury, these days. Our emails from agents, editors and blog commenters can come any time of the day or night. That means we always have to be prepared for the possibility of rejection or other negativity. And that’s a tough state of mind to be in, twenty-four hours a day.
We need a weapon against that feeling of negative suspense, and the tools to chisel our way out of it. Because if we can’t get past the inevitable rejections, we’re going to get discouraged, unhappy, possibly even unable to continue writing.
Rejections can be one of two things. They can be a giant STOP sign in the middle of the road, taking up your entire view. Or they can be a pebble in the road that you occasionally trip over, then rub your foot with irritation and keep walking past.
The difference between these two possibilities? Perspective. Perspective is the tool we need to get past our rejections and re-focus on our bright futures.
There are two visualization exercises that can help you get into the “rejection as a pebble” mindset:
Visualization #1: Pretend You’re Old
Imagine that you’re eighty-five years old. Think of the career you’ve had over the course of your life. Think of the books you’ve written, the short stories you’ve had published, the articles that received praise. Think of all the work you’ve done. Do you remember the series of the rejections, the disappointments over every email and missed connection? If you do, you probably think of them fondly, as if they were a rite of passage, a funny story to be shared with younger writers.
Now remind yourself that all of this is possible, if you allow persistence to overcome rejection; if you keep your perspective on your full career, rather than this one project.
Visualization #2: Pretend You Stopped Writing
Imagine that you allowed a rejection or- let’s be realistic- a series of rejections to derail you. Imagine you’ve completely given up. Think of a story idea popping into your head, and you don’t write it down. Think of your writing desk chair, sitting empty; your computer files and notebooks waiting for your touch. Imagine the feeling that you’ll never again release your words to the world, or even to yourself.
If just thinking of that makes you feel horrible, then you’ve reminded yourself of the most important piece of perspective on your writing life: no matter what happens, you need to be writing. Even if you never get published. Even if the only people who read your stories are you and your future grandchildren. You’d be doing it anyway, because to not do it would not be you.
Perspective isn’t the only tool needed to combat rejection, fear and negativity, of course. We also need persistence, grit and a whole lot of faith. But without perspective, too often we can only see what’s right in front of our noses. We forget that writing is a lifelong pursuit, a career that can span decades. Reminding ourselves to zoom out on our mental pictures can help us see one rejection as life’s footnote, not its stumbling block.
It’s all in how you look at it.
Leanne Sowul writes the column “Be Well, Write Well” for DIY MFA. She is simultaneously working on a novel, a short story, and a nonfiction book, and fully expects to be visualizing pebbles instead of stop signs when she reaches the querying stage. Leanne blogs about writing, reading, work/life balance and self-improvement strategies at Words From The Sowul. You can also find her on Twitter @sowulwords.