May 27, 2020

The Thing About Rejection Is …

• By John F. Chisholm •

I don’t handle rejection well. That’s a shame. Writers, in particular, do best when completely inured to it.


Writing is the most personally injurious, hurtful, onerous and unappreciated profession I can imagine. If I weren’t so addicted, I’d quit. The point is that I have a history. Writing is too consuming for me to quit but too painful for me to enjoy. Rejection is the literary DTs, the inevitable result of having written in the first place. To cure one, you have to stop the other. That’s obvious.

But how?

I examine my past. Being realistic, a great deal of the material with which I was so enamored 20 or even 15 years ago, I’d reject today, myself. In truth, I recently cleaned house, discarding three beginnings and five complete novels that, as an embryo writer, I slaved over. Imagine being one of those characters! The author himself rejects you. Going beyond even that, he discards you! Making my harsh actions even worse, in all these cases, those were the only copies, the only places those characters ever existed!

Now they’re gone.

Look at it as payback. They earned me my first in this continuous string of rejections since.

My writing is better than it was (by a significant margin, too), but accepting rejection escapes my repertoire. Still.

Will this ever change? When?

Surely it’s past time for some personal honesty, a bit of sledgehammer diplomacy with my too fragile ego: Wouldn’t you imagine that by this point that I’d have had enough experience to give me some confidence? Even in rejection? Especially in rejection?

No. Experience hasn’t helped. Not really. Like a tap on the knee, I still jerk in reaction to each rejection. Perhaps it’s because the reactions to my work are too spasmodic, too varied and too far apart to even graph that I can’t form sufficient mental callous to protect myself.

Maybe an example will help.

Doug is the novel I’ve passed around most recently. (There’s another completed but not yet circulated.) Curiously, Doug is also my effort with the widest range of reactions. My reviewers can’t agree. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground.

Gary Vencill writes, “I can’t claim to be a literary critic of note, but I found it [Doug] profound and profoundly important.” He goes on. “Philosophy aside, the book is a compelling read. It is well written and brilliantly conceived.”

Whoa! I was floating on air for a day and a half, enthralled to believe, even for an instant, that my efforts had finally reached an audience. Hallelujah!

But then I received Joan Shepard’s letter reviewing the same book. “I did receive a copy of your Doug and I haven’t written you because I couldn’t stand the book. [The emphasis is hers.] The subject made me squirm from beginning to end.”

That’ll teach me to inquire! But did you hear that thud? That was me coming down hard after Gary’s letter.

I should add that both of these reviewers are important to me, personally. Their evident honesty makes them invaluable in their roles. These are intelligent, well-read individuals whose opinions I respect. That said, think about these letters. Certainly the dichotomy of their perspectives is evident. But the issue here, where do they leave the author?

I can’t stop writing. I’m addicted.

That being the case, why, how, when and where will I ever learn to deal with its inevitable consequence?