Navigating the Sea of Rejection
When I write, I write to music.
Not exactly the most groundbreaking way to open an article, I know.
Who doesn't write to music? There's probably some #writingcommunity follow trains on Twitter as we speak where everyone is exchanging songs they write to (in gif form).
You probably write to music too. There might be music going right now as you prepare to get to that next chapter. I'm honored that I am a part of your string of distractions before you decide to kill that character off in a scene you have been thinking about for months.
Speaking of killing characters off, I'm listening to “The Night King” track from the final season of Game of Thrones. It doesn't matter what your opinion is of the last season, that theme is a banger.
I had a nugget of an idea for this article about dealing with the latest rejection letters I've been sent, and then this came on. It made me realize even the most popular, trending, big-budget stuff gets rejected too. I mean they all get paid, and their work is out there, so it ain't exactly the same as writing between a full-time job, but still.
What if rejection was the end? What if negativity stopped writers in their tracks every time?
We would never see anything from Rian Johnson again that's for sure. Maybe no new Star Wars at all.
Even Tolkien had to wade through some of the harsh reviews from The Hobbit. It's a good thing he didn't focus on those.
Game of Thrones got flack long before the last season. What if everyone just gave up at that point? I wouldn't have this kick-ass song to listen to while I write.
Ok, a little selfish, but you see what I'm getting at.
Rejection and criticism isn't an end to the road. It's a bend in it. A fallen tree. A bridge that went out. Sometimes it's still a perfectly good road, but the incline is getting ever steeper.
Rejection is a chance to grow, figure out what didn't work, find the holes in your art, and keep pushing.
I don't want to beat a dead horse but...yeah I'm gonna.
I've talked about George Lucas before in a post about fighting off that fun Imposter Syndrome feeling. He made something pretty recognizable, though, that's why I keep going back to it. Plus, Star Wars represents a lot from my childhood, including cardboard box X-Wing cockpits and off-brand Lego lightsabers.
Lucas got tons of pushback when he started showing off Star Wars. It wasn't just the incomplete special effects either. There were plot holes, confusing dialogue, and a jumbled story.
What if this was the end? A phenomenon beloved by millions of people would not have ever existed.
He didn't take this rejection and move too quickly to the rock em' sock em' archaeologist idea he also had. He found a way to make this idea work. Plus, he was literally giving himself heart problems he was so invested.
This wasn't the time to take another road. Lucas had come so far already.
So, he rewrote the opening scroll and set to work the task of making his plot understandable. (While banking the special effects team would come through).
Sometimes, growing means realizing you need someone else to help you.
For us writers, this means giving over the manuscript to someone that can see it with fresh eyes. Getting feedback and accepting it can be a hard thing to deal with. It's that rejection again. It's like trying to get the fallen tree out of the road only to have someone come and tell you it's a boulder, not a tree.
Give in to that rejection though, it's there to help you. That's what beta readers and editors are for.
For George Lucas, it was his wife.
She edited the shit out of Star Wars and made it the beloved movie it is today. There's a video about it that is incredibly interesting if you are so inclined:
Essentially, the big climactic moment had no tension. There were no stakes (which might be its own article later).
The X-Wings flew in and attacked the Death Star, but it was just chilling in space. It wasn't about to blow up the rebel base. If they failed, it would have sucked, but it wasn't exactly, do this or the whole planet blows up, either.
Marcia Lucas was the one that knew there needed to be immediate danger if they failed. The trench-run edited next to the timer ticking down on the heroes on the planet makes for one of the best moments in movie history.
If good ol' George had given up, that moment would be taken away from all of us.
How many of us have looked up to the stars and seen ourselves making the jump to lightspeed? What dreams have we had where a little bit of hope is all we needed to overcome the darkness around us. Star Wars represents something very special for so many. Rejection could have been the end of it all.
And I wouldn't have even more amazing music to write to!
Where would we be if that story didn't inspire the themes and sweeping scores of John Williams? Art inspires more art.
My wife and I went to see Empire Strikes Back with the Nashville Symphony playing the score. A little girl was in our row, decked out in a Jedi robe. When the X-Wing lifted out of the swamp, and the music swept up with that inspiring Force theme, the little girl held out her hand in front of her and became the hero.
It was a moment that reminded me that Star Wars is so much more than simply a movie franchise.
That's the thing, you don't know what will come of the story in your head. So much can stop you from getting it out there:
Those opening sentences didn't go the way you wanted.
You have no idea how the second act is possibly going to transition to the third.
That one friend still hasn't gotten back to you about that story. You worry because you know why...
Another friend has...confirmed: the story needs WORK and that's saying it nicely.
Editing sucks, and why should you work so hard for something that will just get rejected?
The rejection letters come.
Oh boy, even more.
Wow, from them too?
All of the places that you submitted?
Yeah, I get that. I get all of that.
Rejection has a way of piling on itself. The tree in the road reveals a boulder in front of a hill hiding a deep valley with a bridge that has entirely collapsed. Rejection sucks. It hurts. Your heart is wrapped in this thing, and you tell yourself constructive criticism is good and you won't take it personal.
Oh, it's personal.
That doesn't mean stop.
Keep editing. Keeping writing. Walk away from it to gather your ideas, but come back. Always come back. Sitting down in that chair to write will be a hard decision. And you have to make that choice constantly. Every. Single. Day.
Push through. What will your art inspire? Movies? Theme music? The new HBO thing they can desperately promote so Game of Thrones fans come back?
Maybe your story is simply the thing that inspires a little girl to hold their hand out and transport herself to a place far far away.
Whatever you do, don't give up. Your story could mean so much to countless people. Today. Tomorrow. For who knows how long.
Dead men tell no tales, but tell tales, and you will never be a dead man.
I’m not here just to drive you back to writing, I want to help make you a better writer too. Get geeky with storytelling advice from your favorite movies, books, games, and shows in my newsletter. Sign up below: