As ludicrous as this sounds, I have found that the statement generally holds true. As good as publishing is, or being accepted for study, or any such acceptance is a boost to the self—it makes us feel like we’ve done something worthy—, rejection plays an equal role. If you never failed, or were never rejected, how odd would your life be? What lessons would you have not learned? Rejection and failure forces us to rethink our paths.
As a writer, I know rejection is “part of the job.” And part of that job, too, is to become the best writer that I possibly can.I’ve had stories rejected, poems rejected, and I’ve been told two years in a row by schools, that they have found better candidates for study. I have not given up. But what does rejection have to do with anything? I’ve learned from a lot of my rejections where my weaknesses as a writer lie. I’ve learned to write better as a consequence, to force myself into rethinking what I’ve written. When I thought a piece was finished, I’ve picked it up after a rejection, and shaken my head. How could I have thought this was ready? often enters my mind.
All rejections can be seriously crushing. So before you think of giving up, let a few friends read it. They will often tell you (if they aren’t writers themselves—unless they are cheerleaders) that they like what you wrote. Get a confidence boost. I’ve had severe issues with confidence as a writer, but that hasn’t forced me to give up, yet. I know it takes time, and effort, to work at the craft of writing, and I know that I have so much to learn.
I’ve let the moment of frustration and anger in, I’ve felt the pain, and then I’ve let it go. What does this rejection mean? Often I find myself agreeing. Yes, this writing can be better.
When I was at the Mt. San Antonio Writer’s Conference last year, I took a few workshops when I didn’t present. This piece came from a headline furnished by the presenter: we had to write about a man that had shot his television, and himself.
Tinny voices talk.
Old damn screen there. Like him. Black box.
Sounds like his wife, now dead; she used to talk that way. Small little voice, like this. Hard to hear through static air. Grey paint, once avocado, peels slowly as if a lethargic primate tugged furtively at night. Years ago his wife bought the color. Floral painting above the ugly talking box.
Electric signals cascade down from the center of his head. Motion. Legs kick out, robotic. He rises, creaking from the yellowed brown-speckled sofa chair.
Soft sunlight breaks through cloud, momentarily brightening the room. Books, newspapers, magazines strewn over crushed and stale brown patterned carpet.
He reaches into a glass case for the small, weighty black metallic object. It fits snugly in his large hand. He has made a decision.
Hand trembles as it lifts, past small saucers and cups, miniature crystalline horses and crumbling sand castles.
He turns. Metallic static voices still weave stories in the still air. Fires, babies in parks, lovely weekend ahead.
Glass explodes outwards, shards cutting grey paint, bleeding through the curtain of age, covering the floor with minuscule melted silicon dioxide.
Click. Again. Accident.
Piercing blooms of pain tendril to the mainframe mind, fire coursing, singeing, from his leg. Voice rattles the window as he cries out. Blood sprayed like oil stains.
I’ve posted before, Why Reading is Important, but I thought I’d expand and clarify what I wrote before, in light of the recent information I’ve come upon in How to Read Literature Like a Professor.
Before, I didn’t mention what kind of books or stories to read. Here I will offer a few suggestions, and why. First of all, if you are a genre writer, read in your genre, read everything you can get your hands on: short stories, poems, novels, flash fiction, from online and in print. Why: when you pitch you should know and related titles, also, you don’t want to be writing the same story that’s been written over and over again—and if you read you will know, AND you can throw twists in.
Okay. That wasn’t specific, but you should know your genre well enough to know where to look. It’s daunting to read that much (if it’s free, read the first few pages to get a feel for things).
Without further ado:
The Illiad: If you haven’t read this (like me—currently reading) you should. This is the epic of Homer that we see re-enacted on the big screen. Everyone has heard about the Trojan War. You can use allusion to enrich your writing. Frank Herbert, in Dune, pays tribute to this work (as do many other writers). It also has Greek religious stories that we’ve heard before.
The Bible: I haven’t read this, and it is on my To Read list. As much as you may or may not like it, English literature is steeped in Biblical stories. Character names from the Bible can have extra meaning, and you can, again, make allusions to this work. Back in the day, if you could only take one book with you, it was the Bible. Stories and moral support.
The Collected Works of Shakespeare: for the above reason, if you could only take a book, Shakespeare often was chosen as well. Shakespeare references both above works, and he references other grecko-roman culture stories. He’s also got some really great stuff.
Those three should keep you fairly busy. Also consider learning about Norse Mythology and reading Grimm’s fairytales. Those are also part of English literature. This will give you a nice basis for stories. If you’ve read Tolkien, Gandalf is much like Odin of the Norse world-view. That is why he work offers resonance beyond just the fantasy genre.
Good reading and writing! Remember: the more you read, the more you know. Empower your writing by reading too. Inspiration in word is a powerful thing.
As any writer will say, discovering flaws in their writing is a moment of horror and/or happiness. Odd combination of feelings, but I’ve felt them both at the same time. On one hand, “How could I have let this be seen?” and on the other, “Thank goodness I found something I can fix!” I know […]