Crash, Burn, and Learn

by Jas Faulkner 

“I love my rejection slips.  They show me I try.”

                                                        -Sylvia Plath

One of the hard truths of the pursuit of writing is also its most delicious irony.  There are few if any artists, writers, creators, innovators and iconoclasts (principled and otherwise) who experienced a smooth, straightforward path  that is innocent of rejection.  You crash and burn and then you learn.

And you keeping moving until you get it right.

So many people tell me my work is easy.  For the record, I know I  have it good and I am very aware that it came about by dint of equal measures of stupid good luck and talent.  It also entails a lot of hard work, sleepless nights, and dealing with people who don’t understand or respect what I do.   Fun?  Yes.  Easy?  Uh, no.

Getting back to task, this is a partial list of authors who were not only told no, they saw their works and their dreams of writing rather rudely kicked to the curb by editors and manuscript readers:

  • Stephen King
  • William Faulkner
  • Beatrix Potter
  • Judy Blume
  • William Golding
  • William Saroyan (It is alleged there was a box with 7000 rejection letters in it in his office.)
  • J. D. Salinger
  • Marcel Proust
  • Agatha Christie
  • J. K. Rowling
  • Pearl S. Buck
  • Isaac Bashevis Singer
  • Joseph Heller
  • George Orwell
  • Louisa May Alcott
  • Kenneth Grahame
  • Jasper Fforde
  • Tony Hillerman
  • Sylvia Plath
  • e e cummings
  • Rudyard Kipling
  • Richard Adams
  • Jack Kerouac
  • James Joyce
  •  Madeleine L’Engle
  • Theodore Geisel

We all have our stories of rejection.  When we share them, we are usually told by well meaning people that the best  revenge is doing
well.  To that I have to ask, is there a need for revenge at all?   Sometimes… well no, I feel pretty sure that most of the time succeeding after a big kick in the shins is something that happens because we have decided anything else, including mourning the past is no longer an option.  It’s a question of survival.

A little over a year ago, I got my own rejection letter.  It came from the media coordinator of the team I had not only been assigned to cover for the previous three seasons, but had been named senior writer with the intention of expanding the coverage to multiple writers.  In fact, I got that letter less than twenty-four hours after I had been informed of my promotion.   I jokingly told colleagues  that the letter said:

“You suck.

I hate you.

Everyone at Bridgestone Arena hates you.  

Your career is over.  

Go away.

Die.”

Here is part of what he actually wrote:

“We are going to go a different direction for the 2011-12 season. Like you said in your evaluation email – you didn’t see fit to answer the questions because you aren’t a blogger, but an anthropologist.* While I entirely respect your position, we are working toward creating a close-knit community on bloggers’ row among people from “non-traditional media outlets” who relish the opportunity to be included and embrace other members of the group, working together to cover the Predators and actively participate in all that comes with being part of the group.”

The inference being that I don’t play well with others.  I wish I could say I was self aware enough to know whether I do or not.  I figure if I avoid making the writers I edit cry, I’m having a good day.  A little under an hour after I received this letter, I got a phone call from someone in the Predators Front Office whom I liked and trusted. They told me how sorry they were and said there was a group of writers who actively lobbied to have me removed from the press area.  Some of the names that person listed belonged to people I had considered friends for the last two years.    I thoroughly expected to be fired when I forwarded that letter to my editor.

Taking a deep breath, I sacked up and told him and my (by then) former EIC what happened.  I don’t know what was worse, my own feelings of humiliation and failure or the feeling that I had let those two gentlemen down.

So here’s what happened:  My boss said, “Okay.  You’re going to have more freedom to say what you really think. Go write.”  My former EIC, who called while I was in the parking lot at the local Publix, let me cry on the phone for nearly an hour and then said, “You know?  Your politics, your views on religion and a hundred other things are different from what the current is down there. You don’t belong.  Walk away from it.”

It helped…some.  Those two guys?  One of them is still my boss and both of them are amazing people.

I wish I could say I dusted myself off and got right back to work.  The truth is I was essentially expelled from a tribe I had belonged to since 1997 and for whom I had expended a lot of creative energy.   I was catatonic for almost three weeks, barely eating or sleeping.   I cried a lot, usually for no reason.  People who cared about me reached the point of threatening me with either bucking the f**k up or making plans to see a therapist or losing their friendship.

Eventually the day came when I sat down at my computer, put my fingers to the keys, the words started coming again and it didn’t feel like I was on automatic pilot. I began to move beyond the safe, well tread path and worked in a mode that required finding my own way.  At first it was scary and at times it was discouraging, but it was and is a hell of a lot of fun.  I learned who my real friends were and was sometimes surprised by how many there were and who valued me and my work.   The editors I work with are amazing.  I’d take a pie in the face for any of them.  My boss? The same.   The nearly one hundred writers who are a part of our network are smart, funny, talented and it’s a privilege to help them hammer their pieces into articles we’re proud to publish.

Putting all of this out here for public consumption isn’t easy.  Frankly, it’s embarrassing and more than a little tough to revisit what was a very painful period in my life. I put this here, along with list of writers who are far better than I will ever be and some of the rather unhinged rejection letters I found on the net because I want to tell you -as you are sitting there wondering if you can afford to keep your store open for a another week, as you have just read your latest rejection letter, as you hang up the phone when some well-meaning person tells you to grow up because not everyone can be a cowboy or a ballerina- it does get better.

The thing is, it will only get better when you let go of the past and move towards what you love. My dad, who loved sports, hated it when people jeered at the opposing team.  He used to tell me: “It’s not about who you are against, it’s about who you’re cheering for.”   I will take that a little further and say, forgive but don’t forget the past, go where your heart is, go to what makes you shine, go where you’re welcome.

Someone dear to me sent me this image last Fall.

 

*Actually, I said I was a professional writer who happened to be an anthropologist.  My EIC at the time asked all of us to resist being called “bloggers”.  Also, vetting story ideas with people from other sites was considered right out by my overlords.

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