I’m not gonna lie to you. Yesterday on Twitter Angela James, Executive Editor for Carina Press tweeted several comments that her editors had made on rejected manuscripts using the hashtag #editreport stating why they were rejected . . . and I felt totally inadequate. I had to stop and consciously remind myself that I was not the one who wrote those rejected manuscripts. Those comments were not directed at me. It was a Herculean effort of will.
Because they could be directed at me.
One of the major terrors of being a writer is the sheer volume of rejection we all get. On the one hand, the very essence of what we do is subjective. I write and enjoy reading Historical Romance and Sci-Fi with romantic elements. I do not write nor do I enjoy reading Paranormal or Urban Romance nor do I enjoy Erotica (I learned the hard way, no pun intended, that there is a world of difference between a juicy sex scene, which I love, and erotica, which I do not). I like some authors much more than others. It’s all about styles, about personality, and about squishy things like feelings. I’m well aware that my writing style is not to everyone’s liking. But that in itself is the stuff of my nightmares.
I absolutely understand the things that Angela was tweeting about craft faults. Bad grammar, poor story structure, and irregular pacing are one thing. I can accept that kind of criticism. In fact, my current WiP is a minefield of fuzzy motivations, underdeveloped characters, and a plot that is so off track at the moment that I want to cry when I think about it. But it’s a first draft. I will fix it. We can fix those things. Several of the other comments from editors were about flat characters, unsatisfying endings, and lack of credibility in overall plot or specific scenes. Without having actually seen the works in question I began to worry where the line of objective faults and subjective matters of taste lay and where it was crossed.
Herein lies the nightmare.
The rational part of me knows that editors are professionals. They know what they’re doing. They have read oodles of manuscripts, bad and good, and they are on top of their game. Which comforts me … until I buy a book and find myself torn between plucking my eyes out with a fork and continuing to read the drivel that somehow made it into print. And I begin to wonder … How could this crap get published instead of my work of art? Ah, hubris!
The partial answer to that raging question is FEAR. Just as you can’t win the lottery unless you buy a ticket, you can’t score a book deal unless you submit your manuscript for torture … I mean consideration. I will confess that I have hardly, barely, scarcely tried to submit anything. There are a lot of reasons for that. Submitting takes time and I have 1001 hobbies clamoring for my attention. Yes, I’m really using that as my excuse. But also, I, Merry Farmer, am afraid of rejection. (This probably also explains why I’m single, but that’s a whole other blot post) The crazy thing is that this fear isn’t born out of being rejected because my writing isn’t any good. The fear is that in spite of writing well I’m terrified that I don’t fit and that the subjective aspect of the submission process will condemn me to a lifetime of being picked last for the dodge ball team (*childhood trauma alert* I was always picked dead last).
I suspect I am not cowering under this bed alone.
So to all of us out there who struggle not with craft but with self-confidence, we can do this! If we didn’t believe in ourselves we would never have picked up a pen or turned on a computer in the first place. We would never have dreamed and shared our dreams with others. We would never have entertained our friends by weaving wild stories beside the campfire of childhood. We are writers! This is in our blood, our soul, our sinew! It’s not a matter of good or bad writing, acceptance or rejection. This is a lifelong journey.
Criticism is not there to kill us, even though it might hurt us, it is there to teach us. The comments made by the editors quoted by Angela were not designed to ridicule or destroy the authors, they were designed to help them improve their art. It hurts to be told that what you think is your best isn’t good enough, but if it’s not good enough it’s not your best. You can do better. The key is to keep going, to challenge yourself, to learn and grow and hone your natural-born talent into everything that it was destined to be.
In musical theater, when an emotion becomes so strong that words can no longer contain it the characters burst into song. And so I leave you with words to remind you of who you are and why you do this:
To dream the impossible dream,
To fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow,
To run where the brave dare not go,
To right the unrightable wrong,
To love pure and chaste from afar,
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star.
This is my quest, to follow that star,
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far;
To fight for the right, without question or pause,
To be willing to march into Hell for a Heavenly cause.
And I know if I’ll only be true to this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I’m laid to my rest.
And the world will be better for this;
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star!
We are writers! Let’s get out there and write!