Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson


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Things I want to keep in mind

I remember how I felt last year when I didn’t get accepted to Pitch Wars. All that hope, all the excitement, all those dreams. I watched the pre-announcement show with all the mentors, and it was the sweetest sort of torment. I seesawed back and forth between I’m going to be in! and I’ll never make it in! I mean, I’d had requests for fulls, and a follow-up email or two. What did that mean?

It meant I had requests for fulls and a follow-up email or two, and that’s it. There were no promises, no hints. I spent the weeks between submission and announcement scouring what my potential mentors were tweeting about, trying to divine if any of it was about me or my book. I got swept up in the contest excitement and hype, and made some new friends and met some pretty cool people.

Then the lists of mentors and mentees was posted and my name wasn’t there. You know that sick feeling you get in the back of your throat when you realize you’ve been caught doing something really stupid? Yeah, I had that. I wanted to throw up. Then I double-checked to see whether or not I’d just missed my name.

Then I got frustrated. Really, my first reaction after the reality set in was this bitter ugly frustration. I’m sure someone’s written up Recognizing The Twelve Stages of Writing Rejection (and if they haven’t, they should). After frustration I got angry, then I got jealous. All the while, I was still happy for the people who did make it to the mentor round, but suddenly the door to the party I’d been hoping to attend got slammed in my face.

So I let myself wallow. I stopped following the Twitter PitchWars hashtag. I stopped reading the people I followed who’d made it in, because I didn’t want my low-level frustrated anger to turn into some full-blown depression. I told myself it didn’t matter, it was just another contest, the odds were stacked against me (I guess Stage #4 is Rationalization). I put my manuscript aside, went about my business, and in time the piquant sting of rejection faded, as it always does. I unmuted people. I stayed in touch with some of the mentors I’d submitted to, but not all. There was too much glee about the contest from some of them.

You know what I did get, though, that a lot of people never get from those they submit to? Feedback. Two of the mentors I submitted to took the time to send me thoughtful feedback about my work and about their decision-making process. Once I wasn’t feeling so hurt by their rejection, I was able to read that feedback and let it rummage around in my brain. Although I set my book aside for the better part of a year, working on a different story or two in the meantime, I never forgot that two mentors who didn’t owe me a thing took the time to send me sweet and gentle encouragement and suggestions on how to improve my manuscript.

When I finally revised (make that rewrote) the book, I reread their feedback and integrated their suggestions.

This year, I was accepted. Is my manuscript perfect? Hell no, but that’s one reason I was picked: there are things in it my mentors know how to help me fix. Three days in, and I’ve come to understand that getting into this contest means I’ve signed up for two intensive months of plotting, planning, and rewriting with two new generous critique partners (since I’m being mentored by a team) with more industry experience than I have. It’s not a magic pill or a fast-track ticket to anything.

But it is nice to know someone else has faith in my writing.

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The Delicate Art of Accepting Rejection

I’d intended to start this post with a bold statement about how I love rejections, because they make me stronger. That’s true, but it’s not exactly what I want to say.

Every writer faces rejection. I must sound like I’m on a tape loop when I say that there’s no one thing ever written that’s universally loved or universally despised. Every book has its market, every trope has its fans, every formula has its detractors as well as its admirers. One difficult part of being a writer is learning to balance those rejections and negative comments with what we can take from them.

I don’t mind so very much when my work gets slammed, as long as there’s at least a little constructive criticism accompanying the scathing laughter. Even mindlessly bad criticism springs from a kernel of truth. When a rejection or harsh comment stings, it’s usually because I’m not willing (or not ready) to accept that beneath it, someone’s pointing out what I already knew was wrong. I just didn’t want to admit it.

To me, the least helpful types of rejections are the ones that say “it’s not what we’re looking for” and that’s it, because wow, it’s like saying “purple” or “cranium” in response. It’s a fact of submission world, however, that nobody owes us an explanation. We get to say hey, try this out! and they get to say no (no thanks if they’re polite). It’s frustrating, but it’s a fact of life.

My mom, who is a very wise lady, taught me one thing very well as a fledgling little Scorpio. She told me that the only lessons that are worthless are the ones we refuse to learn from. We don’t have to embrace the whole thing, but we need to be able to discern what nuggets in that lesson are valuable and take them to heart.

I’m glad to say that I do my best to learn from every rejection as much if not more than from every acceptance. They really do make me better at my craft. They might not make me stronger, but they make my work stronger and better. There’s nothing wrong with that.