Thursday, March 27, 2008

More on Rejection: Strangle Your Darlings

As I'm working on a pitch today, I'm going to remember this:

The time to be sentimental about the story is when I write it. Once it's out there, that time is over. I can put aside sentiment like I put it aside when I'm editing. There's nothing so precious it can't be reworked and re-sent.

I'm a big believer that what makes you successful creatively can make you successful in your business. For instance, I'm curious. It makes me a good reporter, but I can also apply it to figuring out how the business side works. And I'm friendly: I can make that work for me with sources and for networking.

So what's the creative equivalent to rejection?

Does the phrase "strangle your darlings" mean anything to you?

It's the phrase my dear journalism professor used when he talked about being unsentimental about those beautifully written tangents that end up detracting from the point of the story. Or maybe the story was too long and needed to be trimmed. You can't cut out the essential info. So sometimes those lovely turns of phrase have gotta go. It's best for the whole.

It's the same with marketing. If we're honest, we writers have to admit that we love our queries and nurture them from glimmers of ideas. In these moments, we aren't thinking of ourselves as business people with a quota of queries to send out but as artists birthing creative visions into the world. When those ideas get rejected, we feel rejected. We think of the work we put in and we suffer over the wasted effort. We feel like misunderstood geniuses. C'mon. You know it's true. And even though I am writing this sarcastically, I know how much it hurts.

There's a place for such passion. If we didn't have it, we wouldn't be any good at our jobs. But moving on from rejection is the same as moving on from those lovely turns of phrase that we're convinced, if we're just permitted this tangent--or those extra words--we can make the piece sing.

The skill to cultivate here is a studied detachment. We can do it after we've let the story alone for a few days and come back to it with a fresh eye. We can be merciless and unsentimental. We have to be that, too, to be good at our jobs.

We need to remember we can be unsentimental, too, to get over the fear of rejection--and to bounce back quickly when our efforts are rejected. Being a writer may be about ideas. But being a full-time freelance writer is a volume business. As Erik Sherman says so ably in his recent blog post on the subject:

Another part (of the reaction to rejection) is not so normal, because it involves taking rejection as personal failure when you don’t accomplish what literally cannot be done. One is when the freelancer takes everything personally. Do you agree with your significant other on everything? Probably not, and you’re far less close to your clients, so why expect that much acceptance? You may be involved in your business, but you are not the same as your business. Focus on your decisions and the efforts you make, not on others.

Sherman is right: The key to serenity around rejection is focusing on what we have control over. Heck, that's the key to every type of serenity.

As you get responses from editors today, can you treat your queries like you'd treat a favorite word or phrase?

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