Walking to practicum, my cell phone in one hand and Perks of Being a Wallflower in the other, I check my email, and I see that I’ve got a response from an agent who just requested a partial.
The way I get with agents is a lot like the way I get when I have a crush on someone. I’ve read pages of this woman’s Twitter account, and like twenty interviews on how she chooses clients, and also tales of her happy clients and their successful lives as writers. I’m attached to the idea of this woman representing me.
And, similar to my crushes, knowing I’ve got a message pending is an emotional rollercoaster. Only, it’s an unfinished roller coaster that inevitably sends me plummeting to my death. Thing is, I’m already on the rollercoaster whether I like it or not, and even if I think I know what’s at the end of the track, I’ve got no choice but to keep going.
So I open the email, and I read it.
That’s when it hits me, a gust of existential angst unlike anything I’ve felt since I was a teenager. For a moment, I wonder if there’s even a point to anything at all. Why bother writing when all that’s waiting for me is rejection after rejection after rejection? My whole emotional bomb shelter, built up by years of being told I just wasn’t what people were looking for right now, suddenly came crashing down around me.
It’s hard to breathe, it’s hard to move, and it’s hard to exist at all.
Then it’s over. I’m at practicum and I turn my phone off and put my book away, and I get to work thinking, “Shit, that was weird.”
It’s been a long time since I took being turned down that hard, even if it lasted all of thirty seconds. (I don’t know if being at the emotionally-draining ending of Perks really helped.)
In grade eight, I dated three girls. Each of them dumped me. By the time the third one told me it wasn’t going to work, I was a wreck, spending lunch time with my forehead pressed against my desk while she was literally sitting right there because we had the same group of friends.
My next few romantic rejections, that’s just how it went. Walking through the woods, crying, singing along poorly to indie pop love songs (the kind where love is always tragic, flawed, and impossible to maintain.) Crying more.
When I began taking writing seriously, it was a bit like that. Less crying and singing along to “The Bleeding Heart Show”, but enough to stop me writing entirely when I was told I used commas like William Shatner.
There was a lot of struggling to rediscover the point of it all.
But eventually, you harden. Like calluses on your knuckles. And you can handle things a little bit better. Never great, but better. By the sixtieth magazine or agent rejection, it was okay, because I would just write something else or submit somewhere else. I would move on.
The only way to succeed is to make it through the rejections. And the only way to better handle rejection is to be rejected.
Sometimes I do worry about hardening too much, becoming cold and numb to the whole process. That doesn’t seem especially helpful to the passionate process of writing (or loving.) But I won’t turn into a robot overnight, and if yesterday’s agent-related panic was any indication, I’m not as tough as I think anyway.
The point is, even when the pain and sadness piles on top of you and you start to suffocate, you’ve got to crawl back out again. That’s the only option you’ve got.
I urge you, whoever you are, whatever you are struggling to do, don’t give up. Don’t let rejection stop you.*
And I promise I won’t, either.
*Unless you’re doing something non-consensual that harms other people. Don’t be a dick, you guys.