Thursday, June 13, 2013

It's Not You, It's the Writing (Really!)

So I did something good, and I'm pretending it was a sign of maturity, though I think it was instinct. Regardless, it was good. Here's what it was: I made a distinction between awards for writing and awards for the author of that writing.

Recently, I was involved in administering the NOWW Writing contest (last year's page: http://nowwwriters.org/?page_id=1641) (mark your calendars: similar deadlines for 2014). The awards for the contest winners were given out at the Literary Awards Party in May.

In announcing the winners, I said, "The winning entry is...." Which is different from giving the award to the writer. It may sound "just semantics" (a phrase guaranteed to get my back up), but hey, we're word people, and we know the importance of words.

Here's the thing. I saw a lot of the entries in this contest, this year and in previous years. Lots of good writing didn't get awards. Screeners and judges are human, and humans have preferences. Some prefer humour, some prefer serious. Some prefer perfect little bagatelles and others prefer imperfect attempts at epic.

We all experience rejection, and I've experienced my fair share. Here are two examples of bad rejections (and yes, I have received rejections with this wording from publications) that you should ignore because THEY ARE WRONG. And then two more, that are more likely to be true.

Bad #1: The rejections that can drive me to eat popsicles on the deck say something like, "We feel you're not yet ready for our magazine." Me? Really? I'm not ready? Do you know me? This kind of feedback is guaranteed poison to someone who never measured up to standards set by perfectionist (either those in the home or those just in the head). It's personal, and it's wrong.

Bad #2: The rejections that can make me stomp around for awhile say something like, "Your writing is not yet ready for our magazine." My writing? Really? You've read it all, and all of it is "not ready"? Pfff. Same remedy as for the previous rejection.

Good #1: The rejections that are useful, though still hard to hear, say something like, "This piece isn't quite right for us." I let slide those rejections that say, "This piece isn't quite ready for us." Either way, the rejection is for a particular instance of writing: not for me, not for "my work," but just for this thing. I can choose to revise or I can just send it elsewhere.

Good #2 but rare: The rejections that are actually helpful say something like, "This part of this piece seems to work, but you might look at that." True, this perspective is just from one person. But it gives me feedback that I can consider. And of course, personal rejections are difficult and time-consuming to write, so I don't see them often and I completely understand why.

But anyway, here's the point: in the world of writing and rejection, it's not YOU, it's that piece. The way to handle any of these rejections: Behave like a writer, which is to say, you write, you revise, you submit. So go and do that.