There are losses for which there is no upside. I do not presume to speak to those. Please know that if you are struggling with a loss like that, you have my most heartfelt prayers and thoughts. May your every month be easier and more joyful than the last one. I would not diminish losses of that depth by posting about them.
However, those are not the only losses that hurt, that make us sleep to cope, eat to cope, not eat to cope, drink to cope, cry because we can't cope; that fill us with feelings of hopelessness and fear about our futures.
The writing biz is rife with opportunities for fear and crushing disappointment. Coming up with a good plot, good story, good characters, good setting, etc. is tough. Writing through exhaustion, writers' block, plot/character/timeline problems, sickness, kids' fighting in the next room, writing in a van (an author just followed me on twitter who wrote her first book in a mini-van when she was 45. now she's famous and has had at least one of her novels made into a major motion picture! @clairecookwrite), writing at a school desk at night in the laundry room (Stephen King), navigating seemingly impossible rewrites, etc. is tough. But, in my opinion, none of that is as hard as what comes next.
Getting an agent. Getting an editor. Getting good reviews at all stages. Cover and back copy choices. Earning back your advance. Appropriate sales figures. You go from total control over your manuscript to what feels like none over what happens with it. (How much control you really have is a matter of debate. Believe me, I do everything I can. I'm the flippin' energizer bunny. I have the long-eared headband and the pink fluffy tail.) My point is: No matter of promotion or marketing can make someone laugh and cry over your manuscript. You can't make someone buy your book and when they finish die to tell their friends that they have to read it too. It's a love thing.
Which brings me to an unnamed friend - picture someone beautiful, adventurous, smart, successful, and kind. At the same time that I was going through a painful literary rejection, she was going through a painful romantic one.
Believe it or not, it was the same. It's a love thing.
This is what I learned -
A Little Hate Is Lovely.
Again, I'm the chick who sips from only full glasses (tries to anyway) and uses the word "love" so much that she fears it may come across as insincere (which it isn't). BUT, I do believe that a little "hate" goes a long way in healing. I might have told my friend: That guy is an idiot. He's weak. He's a liar. He's whatever-whatever. The point is not to internalize hate but to pull yourself up from feeling "less than" the one who so "wisely" dumped you. Sure, absolutely, you probably have something to learn too about how you could have been better. Learn it. Now you're better and he's still an idiot. (joking, joking.)
You Skated, Dude!
Maya Angelou says, "The first time people show you who you are, believe them." My friend's ex was perfect in many, many ways. But there were things. Tiny things. It was like that for me too. Tiny things that niggled at me that I ignored because of all the perfection and all those dreams that I'd been working so so hard for. Now is the time to blow those tiny things up. Think about living with them and realizing how lucky you are that you don't have to.
No agent/boyfriend is better than a bad agent/boyfriend. Ask anyone who's stuck with one.
You always have to know that whatever is on the horizon is better than what you missed. You are lucky for the broken road.
I'm Grateful For This?!?
Yes. Yes, you are. Ask yourself, "Is my life better or worse for having had this experience?" I bet it's better. We wouldn't be so sad to lose it if it weren't. Find things to be grateful for. If nothing else, every miss is one closer to the hit. Personally, I always have: weathering is good for writers. :)
I often find healing gifts in the timing of things. I signed up for a conference that turned out to be held two weeks after my rejection. There is no better place for a writer to be than with other writers. I met people with similar stories who were not only on the conference panel but on the NYT bestseller lists too.
Be grateful. All of our experiences make us more ready for when we finally get what we really want.
Rewrite Your Script
When I get reviewer comments back on my manuscripts, I have to ask my husband to read the cover letter. I'm too close to it to feel the weight of each sentence. The good ones are barely visible on the page and the possibly negative ones are in a larger font and bolded. It always goes like this: "I heard back from So-And-So." He says, "Oh, good. Did they like it?" I say, "I don't know. I can't tell." Then I stand by chewing my nails while he reads it. He says, "Okay, so they love it. What's your problem?" Me: "But, what about...? What about...? I just can't tell."
Then he inevitably reads the upbeat parts aloud and tells me that I can't just pick one less than glowing sentence and run around and around with it.
Yes. Yes, I can. That is what I call my "script". But I know this about myself, and I do actually crave criticism on my work. I need it. I can't get better without it. So I rewrite my script. I hit pause on the single negative phrase riding on my mind's merry-go-round, and replace it with a more accurate, forward-thinking, hopeful script. Erase the old one, let the shame go, and get to work.
An early agent on my first attempt at writing rejected me.
Bad script: "You would benefit from a workshop. You're not ready."
Good script: She told me that I have natural talent, and that she is "quite intrigued by [my] story and protagonist." She took the time to give specific feedback and recommended that a workshop may be able to close the gap for me. She invited me to revise and requery. This can not happen often. I am one step closer. I am grateful.
(This is not my friend's script. It is just another example. Woman dumped.)
Bad script: It always happens this way.
Good script: It didn't work out, but I attracted an intelligent, successful man and I was attracted to him. I'm swimming in the right lake. It was closer than last time. I'm certainly better off without that last guy. The next one will be better. It's only a matter of time. Besides, I have a totally great life. I'm going shopping/hiking/dancing/having a dinner party.
I love angsty music. The more raw it is the more I like it. But, that's not what helps here. Think of the positivity you surround yourself with as bracket that keeps your script in place until the glue dries. Uplifting music. Uplifting movies, tv, books. Optimism by osmosis.
Give Yourself a Future
We are telling ourselves that the future will be better, right? Then we have to have one. Plan something to look forward to. Know your next step. Always have something on the horizon. Keep your eyes on the prize, as they say.
When everything fell apart for me all I could feel at first was numb sadness. I questioned myself, my talent, my choices. But there was a little version of me inside (an internal MM Polly Pocket :)) who didn't really care about how I felt. She had things to do and I was in the way.
Soldiers don't just fight battles. They fight wars. You can't win the war if you give up after a battle, no matter how bad it is. I fought for her and it was the best thing I could have done for the rest of me. Not to mention my work. The people I work with now are of an even higher caliber than my "miss". Amazing people are on my side now. I wouldn't have them if things had happened differently.
You can't make someone love you, but you have to know you are worthy of it. You have a bright future. That harm of believing that, even if it's untrue, is nothing compared to the harm of not believing it. The perfect job, spouse, writing team is awaiting us. I have absolute faith in your future and I love you for your faith in mine. "You are the leaves on my family tree."*
A personal tidbit (though I'm not sure if it's possible to be more personal than I have been today :)) - Here is a photo of my husband, Chris, and me at his cousin's wedding this weekend. The night before we spent with one of our favorite families in the world in their amazing house in TriBeCa and then out for a night, sans kids, on the town. Phenomenal fun.
I'm working on extending my reach. If you care to, please feel free to share this or my fb page with your friends. I'm on twitter too. I <3 social media!
*Train. I think the song is "Sing Together"?