Friday, July 23, 2010

Happy Birthday Rejectionist + Essay

First off, if all one of you are not reading Rejectionist religiously, convert post haste and begin reading. She is funny, she is spectacular, she is an agency assistant which means I must find some way to bribe with shippable foodstuffs (Preferably whiskey filled chocolates).

 This stuff.

She's having a Birthday Uncontest, which I guess is related to an Unbirthday Contest somewhere (probably via Alice eating the wrong side of the mushroom) and has decreed that all us loyal slaves readers shall write an essay on a predetermined subject, and that subject is ... "What Form Rejection Means to Me"

Your reaction. Sorry.

And you just rolled your eyes because you already know what I'm going to talk about here. So I'm going to start off with a story I have not repeated to ANYBODY, ever. Deepest, darkest, soul buried secrets, unveiled for the universe to see, point and laugh at.

I was a huge slacker when I went to a normal school. Back then I thought it was because I was a failure and  there wasn't much point in trying. In reality, I was bored. As a homeschooler I got to read whatever I wanted, study whatever I wanted, WRITE whatever I wanted, and as a consequence, I was diagramming sentences and reading the encyclopedia for fun when I was nine, playing at what I now recognize as fan fiction, and doing many arts and crafty stuff in my bedroom, which usually looked like a tornado had gone through a Christmas wrapping plant and a yarn factory. Also, dates and names bored me, and history and science in that school were little more than a recitation on who made what discovery and why.

They wouldn't let me get away with this, either.

So when we had to choose a Project (I still don't remember what the fuck this was, exactly) I delayed until the last possible minute and settled on science fair. Initially, I was going to repeat an old experiment from a homeschooling book where you mixed supersaturated salt- and sugar-water, as well as that blue crystal stuff, and stuck them in different temperatures to see which one grew faster (salt and sugar grow fastest in fridge, the other stuff grows fastest in the oven. Totally contrary to my hypothesis. Rocking Awesome). However, I decided this was too non-creative ... and I also ran out of time. I read the guidelines I'd been given, figured out that nothing said it had to be an experimental, and spent the next week or so studying, researching and basically obsessing over monarch butterflies. My display won second, and qualified me to go to the regional competition.

Suddenly, I was excited about school. Here was something I did reasonably well, as judged by the science fair committee. Here was evidence that I had brains! Here! Was! Proof! That my family could be proud of me! Somehow! That I could do more than read! (a full sized novel a day, at thirteen, which made my mom grumble because she was tired of buying me books and/or driving me to the library) This was great!

I redid my display, made it look better, and had my mom look over everything. She assured me it was perfect. We went to the regional competition (and missed Crazy Hat Day back at school, which sucked. I had made a real crazy hat, peacock feathers and all) I stood proudly beside my in-depth study of monarchs. The judges came by, looked at the maps, the text, and the little butterflies I'd pinned everywhere, and asked me where the hypothesis was.

It turned out that I was one year too old to get away with a display sans-experiment and this fact was mentioned nowhere in the information our school had been given. I should have been disqualified at the school level and was not. I got a green ribbon at regional, an honorable mention. The only one in the entire competition. Everybody else placed. Hundreds of other students placed. I think my ribbon came off somebody's purse, now that I think of it. I threw all of it into the trash on my way back home, and I don't think I tried hard at anything else that year. I figured I'd just fail anyway. There'd be a line or something I skimmed over, something I didn't check. Even if I did do well and I was good enough, it'd get sabotaged somewhere along the line, either by my own stupidity or chance. I passed with a C average. The only time anybody in that school discussed anything with me, good or bad, was the day after my Dad kept me and my brother out of school so we could go to flea markets (his idea. I spent the whole day being sick inside the car). The principal asked me what my problem was.

Whenever I get rejection from anything, I feel like I'm thirteen and I've got that goddamn ribbon in my hand again. I feel like it will never matter how hard I try, or what I do, there will always be someone who does it better than me. Someone who has figured out what "Good enough" is. They have the training, or the experience, or that little extra "umph", and I will always be outside, the imitator, the second rate. Not worth the time for a reason. Maybe it's because I suck. Maybe it's because I read the directions wrong. Nobody cares, and they're right not to. I should have done the work, I should have tried harder. I should have revised eight times instead of just seven.

I guess my reaction is betrayal. (and I know I've discussed this before, I'm sorry) that ... you know, there's an unwritten rule that your family checks you over before you go out in public. Make sure you don't have toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoes.

Or, ya know, other places too.

Yet when we start doing creative stuff, our family stops doing their job. Like when I started focusing on my art, I would bring my work to my mom for critique, and she'd say it was lovely. It didn't matter if I sucked or if it really was good. It was lovely. Obviously, now I can paint. Kind of. But ... you know, can I really trust it? If they say the same stuff now that they did back when I really sucked at it ... how do I KNOW if it's any good? Yes, I'm getting more good compliments than bad, now ... but does that really mean anything? How do I know that I don't just really, really suck?

Same thing goes for my writing. I give it to my family and my friends so they can go "Hey, this part doesn't make sense. You need to fix it!" And I get it back, unmarked, with good reviews. So my little heart is glowing and my little brain is floating, and I show it to a professional, because my family made SURE that everything was wonderful. You know, they're your family. They wouldn't let you go outside in gold lame' pants, so surely they wouldn't say your writing was good when it actually isn't.

There is, of course, a natural result.

After the crying, I revise and give it BACK to my family, saying "You REALLY don't have to worry about my feelings. Just critique." And I get it back. Glowing reviews. So I show it to another professional, who kindly points out that he's getting a totally different ending than what I intended.

Dry tears. Revise. Bring it back, crawling on hands and knees, with a small supply of red Sharpie pens and a plea of "Please do not worry about hurting my feelings. Please tell me what I need to fix today." Mother leaves several messages on cell phone throughout first reading that consist of heavy breathing, the words "Oh My God" and "Bestseller" dotting the incoherent mess like islands in a sea of spooge. I seriously do not feel it is safe to listen to these messages, given that this is my MOTHER and there are certain lines our little brains ought not cross. Father reads it, opens every single conversation post-read with "So have you gotten any offers yet?" and tells me I am an "idiot" a "ding-a-ling" and "hysterical" for being less than enthusiastic in my answers ("Dad, I'm serious. I don't think anything's going to happen. Ever. It's just not ... something enough." "Well, then you're an idiot.")

Take one last shot, package everything up, and receive the by-now predictable result. Short-term kindness, short-term ego trip, long term crying jag. "You're there! You're ready! STOP WORKING ON IT AND JUST SEND IT OUT ALREADY!" *send* *rejection*. And me looking at my support system and wondering why I should even bother giving them another chance at supporting my career and not just my ego.

But wait! There are professional authors who are willing and able to give good advice! So let's go to them! And work with them! For months and months and months at a time! And they tell me it's ready, and ...

...I stop. Because if my mom would lie to me about my writing ability, why the fuck should I trust somebody on the internet/in a writer's group/total random stranger? Maybe they don't want to hurt my feelings either? Maybe they're as genuinely nice as they seem on the internet and they decided the best thing they could do is polish the shit out of that turd, except you can't really do that because then it dissolves into a lot of little tiny pieces, which makes flushing a lot easier but doesn't really help when you have a BOOK. So they lied too. Of course they would. All genuinely nice people lie. After all, my mom lied.

Okay. Hire a book editor. Surely that will help! Surely he won't lie to me.

... unless he happens to be a scam artist, and making me feel good is how he makes sure he gets paid.

So a form rejection, which basically says "not for us," leaves me wondering WHY is it not for "us"? Is it because I screwed up and you don't look at my genre? Is it because I screwed up and left a couple of typos? Is it because the plot makes no sense? Too fast paced? too slow? Too much description? not enough? Is it completely and totally nothing more than a giant, polished and steaming turd, or is it ALMOST there, and if I had just worked on it another six months you'd take it? What did I do wrong? Obviously whomever I query is too busy to explain (justifiably so, as they have another six hundred queries to answer) and I must work this out on my own. Also just as obviously, I can't see it on my own. So to whom must I go for help?

Mom. Dad. Other assorted people who have read it and told me that it's READY TO GO three versions ago.

...yeah, fuck this shit. Book, go in trash. I'll just get started on the next one.


  1. SIck. Feverish. WIll respond when furniture no longer speaking to me.

  2. IT'S NOT PERSONAL SWEAR SWEAR! HANG IN THERE! BTW, the Rejectionist totally owns gold lamé pants.

  3. Ian: But the furnature talking is the best part!

    Rejectionist: NO NO NO IS NOT YOUR FAULT! (Fuck, now I HAVE to go find that whiskey filled chocolate bar, why do they not sell properly filled alcoholic chocolates in this horrible horrible city)

  4. So this is the reaction of all moms to writing. I think I feel a little relieved. My mom was so effusive about my rejection post she was telling me it should be a book. And I remembered why I have a trusted proof reader I usually send things to first.

  5. JA Platt: Yeah. I need to find one of those.