Sorry – you didn’t make it. Your story wasn’t chosen. It wasn’t even one of the top contenders. Sure, it had merit, it was well written (according to the judges), but it lacked that certain spark that separated it from the others. In fact, it only made it through to the second round of voting, round four being the finalists.
News like this can crush you. Especially if you’re a writer, sensitive to criticism. The temptation is just to dissolve in a puddle of tears and throw in the towel. Find something safer to do, like peeling onions or washing dishes. Something that you know you can’t fail at.
Writing is different from other professions (accounting, for instance) in that you put so much of yourself into your work. When rejection comes – as it so often does – it stings like crazy. It does make you want to give up. You think of all the other jobs you could be doing – safer, better paid – and try to remind yourself why you’re writing in the first place.
If you’re fortunate, you can fall back on those around you who love you and find a trustworthy shoulder to cry on. And maybe take some time out to gain some much-needed perspective. Is there something you could be doing differently that would result in a better outcome the next time you try? Absorbing criticism and working on your faults is hard, painful even, but necessary if you’re to improve at your craft.
This past month has been one setback after the other. Quite honestly, I feel punch drunk. One thing it has taught me is to examine my motives. Why am I really doing what I’m doing? I thought of Bach, my favourite composer, who did not hunger after fame or riches, but wrote at the top of every sheet of music, “Soli Deo Gloria”. Something my husband said to me rang true, too: “Sometimes God allows us to hit rock bottom to make us realise that He’s the rock at the bottom.”
Once you’ve found the strength to go on, you pick up your writing rucksack and get back to work, a little heavy-footed at first until you gradually improve your pace. And then it comes – confirmation through affirmation, those rays of encouragement that brighten your soul. A letter from a reader saying how much she and her daughter enjoyed your book. A letter from a project coordinator saying how much she likes the way your children’s biography is shaping up. Words like that are like wind to my sails. And then I’m really soaring again, ready to tackle anything.
I suppose what’s comforting to know is that everyone has to deal with disappointment, even those people who look they have everything together. Everyone has to overcome the secret storms of life, those storms that outsiders may be aware of. The one consolation is that when you emerge from the dark clouds and the tumultuous sea, you usually find the air is clearer, brighter – and the will to persevere stronger than ever. Martin Luther King Jr put it so well when he said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”