Sunday, December 20, 2009

Rejection and Perfection

I've not been a very good blogger the last week or so. Too many things to do for Christmas and too little time to do them. And then, something happened that threw me off course a bit. I received my first rejection for my novel.

Not my first rejection, just the first one for the novel manuscript. I was extremely disappointed, because I sent it as an exclusive submission, since I really wanted to work with that particular editor. But it was not to be.

What do you do when you get a rejection? Seriously. Do you scream, cry, cuss, throw things, slam doors, snarl at your spouse/significant other/parent/dog/cat? I'm truly interested in how other writers react or respond to rejections. My husband says I'm not in the norm. I'm not sure how he knows this, as he is not a writer, but he claims no one else would react the way I did. So...what did I do?

He handed me the envelope, with my address label on both the front and as the return. Of course I knew what that meant. A rejection. I looked at it for a moment, turned it over and over, until he said, "Aren't you going to open it?" Without responding, I opened it, and read the very nice, personally signed, rejection letter. I handed it to him, still without speaking. He read it, gave me a hug and said he was sorry. Then he stood there and stared at, well, are you going to fall apart or what?

No, I didn't fall apart. I didn't cry, throw things or cuss the dog. I shrugged, and said, "I'm disappointed, but this probably won't be my last rejection." I took the letter into my study, made a file folder for it entitled "Novel rejection letters," and put it away.

Since I started writing seriously 3 1/2 years ago, I've had several things published and several rejected. I've learned that a rejection is not the end of the world. It is...or should be...the impetus to edit and revise more studiously, to write more, to learn more, and to continue to submit. I've also learned that a rejection is not a personal affront to me. It merely says that this editor did not like the story, my writing, or could not use it because she/he already had similar works on their desk or in various phases of editing or publishing.

There is a young man on one of my literary boards who strongly believes that he will never be published until his writing is PERFECT. Truly, he expects it to be PERFECT. I've tried to tell him that perfection is not a human trait in any endeavor, and that editors don't expect that, regardless of what we may think. But he doesn't believe me. Consequently, he seldom submits anything because he "knows" it will be rejected, because he doesn't believe it is "perfect." When he does submit, and is rejected, he simply cannot cope, and he goes into a meltdown.

So that brings me to the question, do you expect perfection in your writing? And, when does it become 'perfect' in your mind?

I write and revise, write and revise, go back, edit, revise some more, edit, write, and so on. The novel I just finished and submitted has been edited and revised more times than I can remember. I've rewritten totally the first three chapters at least three times. I completely deleted 4 chapters in the middle of the novel after rewriting them several times, because as I went on, I felt that those chapters contained a subplot that was better left out. So then I had to come up with another subplot and work it into both the chapters before and those after. It was a major undertaking, and I did it in the middle of my ICL novel course.

But...was it perfect when I submitted it? Absolutely not. It was polished as well as I could polish it. I expect to have revisions asked for by any editor who finally accepts it. I will be happy to do those revisions...I think...because I know that the eyes that see it are far more experienced than mine, and will be able to spot shortcomings that I haven't.

I think we do ourselves a disservice when we expect or want to see perfection in anything we do, especially our writing. If we do expect it, then the question becomes, our we achieve it? And if we honestly believe that a certain work is perfect, how do we feel and react when it is rejected? Isn't that when the sky opens up and all the evils of the Writing Gods descend upon us? How can we be expected to deal with that? We immediately feel that we are the worst writers in the universe, and we'll never be published.

So...I accept rejection and reject perfection! I don't like to be rejected, any more than anyone does, but I'm realistic enough to know that it is a fact of a writer's life. I'm also realistic enough to know that perfection is a myth that can never be captured in real life. Perhaps I'm too much of a realist, and maybe that's why I can't write good fantasy. But for now, at least, I will accept these truths which I hold to be self-evident: this rejection won't be my last, and my writing will never be perfect.

As for you: How do you feel about rejections, and how do you react to them? you strive for perfection in your work? If so, do you ever feel that you have attained it?

Think about it.