A writer friend on Facebook asked a pointed question: how do you deal with rejection? How do you deal with ‘no’s from people who do not believe in your work? How to handle the thorns of professional jealousy? The idea that people out there just do not like your contribution to the world and are not shy in saying so?
Her question jolted me because I have been wrestling with this issue for the past two weeks, and not the sexy kind of wrestling with bulging muscles and oil, but the kind where you’re suddenly pinned hard and something in your shoulder pops and with pained surprise you realize, ‘I didn’t know I could hurt there.’
I had been warned aplenty, and even accepted, that this very day would come: a bad review in a very public space.
Last week it happened.
King Perry has enjoyed dozens of gorgeous, articulate, gushing reviews on various websites. Safe to say I have been officially dazzled and left speechless. But I finally racked up a 2 star review on amazon.com and it just fucking hurt. The reviewer didn’t like narrator, Vin, and hated the approach of the entire book. He or she gets to do that. I can’t say the reviewer was unfair or even particularly unkind…that person just really could not stand the book.
Then, someone else chimed in and agreed.
When I wrote a few paragraphs ago that I had accepted “this day would come,” I guess my acceptance included the mental picture that when this day arrived, I would read the offending review scanning the New York Times and eating grapefruit wedges with a tiny fork. My newly-hired editor/Italian massage therapist would offer a foot massage to help me deal with this bitter anguish, and I would accept his offer, saying, “Some people just don’t get it.”
Never mind the fact that I do not read the New York Times and I don’t own those tiny grapefruit forks.
But the biggest problem is that these people who didn’t like the book are not insensitive assholes. Nope. They just didn’t like it.
I considered writing replies to the review, snarky one-liners or heartfelt passages explaining my perspective. Every writer who warned me of this day’s arrival had also warned me in the verbal equivalent of all caps: DON’T DO THAT. Do not write a reply. Do not get sucked in.
Yes, but now that the day was here and it hurt, I really, really wanted to write a response.
The problem with hurt is that there’s nowhere for it to go. You’re stuck with it. Anger feels like action. Sadness, well, I have a plan: cry, eat, or do laundry. But hurt…hurt just sits there like a hot coal and you watch the sizzling, inert, orange glow. As my Facebook friend asked, “Any tips for maintaining hope and self-belief when faced with The Great Wall of No and keeping the Wolf of Professional Envy from the door?”
Turns out, I have a few ideas.
1. Have a best friend named Ann.
I immediately called my Ann. Together, we explored my hurt and this was key: we made it about me. Instead of ranting about the review or the exact words in the review or how X was unfair and they should never had said Y, etc., she helped me gently uncover the hurt behind the hurt, the thing that made this a glowing hot coal instead of just a lump of coal. How had the review slapped my ego? How did I let this review define me as a person?
You may not have an Ann (and I would prefer you not steal mine). But find the friend who will do more than say, “Oh, poor baby,” and invite that friend to ask you the tough questions: what ugly parts of yourself does this touch? How are you refusing empathy and kindness to this situation? What is it about you and your expectations about the world that made this feel like an arrow to the heart?
I know from personal experience that the answers are often unflattering.
2. Get all Pollyannaish.
We tend to treat optimism and positivity as if it’s naivete, like we must shed ridiculous silver linings before someone else points out we should be miserable.
After she read the review, Ann emailed me and her subject line boldly proclaimed, “HOW WONDERFUL!” She gleefully explained how people were debating the book in a very public forum, so fully engaged with the characters that they developed a powerful dislike. She noted that the review didn’t say, “Badly written,” or “Untalented hack,” but rather focused 100% on who-the-hell-does-this-character-think-he-is?
She asked pointedly if this wasn’t exactly what I wanted in constructing a character, someone memorable enough to rant about, to love, to think about a week later? Yes, yes it was. Wasn’t this review, in fact, exactly what I wanted as a writer?
It’s hard to love rejection.
I do not love flare ups of jealous for professional colleagues. And yet is this not part of the whole wonderful/shitty package of daring to boldly step into the circus tent marked ‘For Writers Only?’ It hurts, yes, and generally I am a fan of avoiding hurt.
But hey! After 20 years of writing in secret, I finally stepped into the big tent marked For Writers Only! Instead of bemoaning a few detractors, I have decided to find someone nearby to hug and whisper, “I can’t believe I’m doing this. I’m finally here.”
3. Let the universe laugh at you.
As I began to feel actual gratitude for the pokes to my ego and what it revealed, I wrote an email to another friend trying to articulate this odd journey from pain to general hurt to acceptance to thankfulness. To better describe my initial reaction using as much drama as possible, I typed: ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow.
But as my fingers flew across the keyboard, auto-correct kept changing what I typed to: O wow O wow O wow O wow.
I love it.
Most of the people I love like transforming themselves into better people. We try. Some days we’re successful and some days we’re not. I’ve heard these transformation challenges described as FGOs: Fucking Growth Opportunities. Once we’ve reached the far side of a miserable life challenge and are finally gaining some perspective, we laugh (well, mutter/chuckle) about how the universe just handed us another crap-tastic FGO.
Nobody particularly wants the growth opportunity life presents. I wanted this challenge, not that one; that one is ugly. In the novel I published, Perry doesn’t like his FGO. Vin certainly doesn’t like his. And some days I don’t care for mine much either.
But the Sparkling Spirit that laughs through all of us says, “Hey. I just gave you an opportunity to say ‘O wow.’ Will you take it?”
Today, I say ‘O wow.’
I still don’t like that it’s not possible to prepare yourself for those shallow, stabby hurts. I don’t like that at all. I am still unprepared for the next one and maybe there is no way to prepare, just take a deep breathe and realize that doing what you love also offers pain.
Still, in anticipation of the next FGO, I think I had better go shopping for grapefruit forks.