This is what we do: On gatekeepers, rejection, and resilience

Once again, a writer friend has inspired this week’s post. So indebted. Many thanks.

Gatekeepers

I’m using gatekeeper in the Campbellian/Hero’s Journey sense, here: the Threshold Guardian archetype. At the point where the hero/ine stands at the threshold, ready to cross and gain the object of her or his quest, someone or something pops up and prevents the hero/ine from passing.

These gatekeepers must be defeated or circumvented, removed or converted to allies.

Mel’s note: To find out more, please read Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, Maureen Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey, or all of them.

Every writer I know has at least one.

It might be a teacher who tried to shape either the young writer or her work in an inappropriate way. It might be the friend or friends who ridiculed the young writer out of jealousy. It might be the mentor who is not equipped to truly help the writer and rather than admitting his gap in knowledge or ability discourages the writer from pursuing his calling.

More insidious is the above mentioned variety of mentor who continues to encourage the writer, praises the writer’s work, but sympathetically explains that the writer’s work will never find a market. They do this as a kindness, to spare the hapless writer the agony of further rejection.

It could be an editor who likes nothing the writer submits for review. It could even be someone who sets herself up as an expert but only misguides the writer to justify the fee the writer has been charged.

This is not an exhaustive list. Explore your past and you will discover your gatekeepers.

If you’ve had to face them before you were truly prepared, you may have failed to pass the challenge and reach the threshold.

Don’t despair. You haven’t lost your chance. The door remains. The gatekeeper leaves. Another may take her place, but on the next attempt, armed with your experience, you have a better chance of succeeding.

I was turned away repeatedly as a young writer and because of my introverted nature, it took me a long time to understand the ultimate lesson of the gatekeeper.

Mel’s note: If you want to find out more about my struggles, you can read my posts under the category, My history as a so-called writer. If you go back to the earliest post, Three Blind Mice, and read forward, it will all make much more sense 😉

What is the ultimate lesson of the gatekeeper? I’m so glad you asked.

The gatekeeper only has the power we give to them. If you do as I did and internalize the lessons of the gatekeepers in your life, you become your own worst enemy, your own biggest, baddest gatekeeper.

Don’t let that happen.

Even if you retreat from the gatekeeper at the time of your confrontation, keep your eyes on your goal and the reasons it is important for you to achieve it. Yes, you’re allowed to hurt, to grieve, to lick your wounds if you need to, but don’t lose sight of your dream.

Find a true friend, you know, the kind of person who would tell you if you have spinach stuck between your teeth, or if the outfit you chose to wear was absolutely hideous? Find your person (and yes, that’s a Grey’s Anatomy reference). Tell them about your struggle and the reasons it hurts so much to have backed down.

Then, tell your person about your dream and the reasons why it’s so important to you.

Even if they just listen, you will feel so much better afterward, but you will have reminded yourself, in telling your true friend, exactly why you write in the first place and exactly why you can’t give up.

Then you pick up the pieces and try again. Because that’s what we do.

Rejection sucks

There’s no way around it. Rejection sucks.

Rejection, particularly when it arrives as a form letter, is just a specific example of a non-human form of gatekeeper. Yes, there’s a human on the other end of that letter, but you don’t know them, and they don’t know you (most of the time).

That rejection has kept you from being published or winning a contest.

And it hurts.

Another writer friend, Nina Munteanu, has just completed a two-part post on the subject of rejection. In part one, she discusses how to accept rejection, and in part two, she discusses how we can learn from rejection.

In fact, a lot of writers have posted about it. Just Google it. You’ll see. A number of them counsel the writer to develop thick skin.

I’d like to call shenanigans on that.

No offence.

Resilience, not rhino-hide

Suck it up, buttercup, they say. Really?

If it was that simple, we’d all just grow ourselves a fine second skin of rhino-hide and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune would mean nothing. Less.

Telling someone, anyone, to toughen up after suffering a loss (no matter how insignificant it might seem to others) is telling that person to shut down their feelings. That’s not a good thing. As writers, we kind of need those. Hell, as human beings we need our emotions.

We have to learn to acknowledge our feelings, to accept them, and process them. We can’t deny them. That way lies madness. Literally. It’s called depression. I know what I’m talking about here.

We have to figure out why it hurts, what’s at the root of the problem. Once we understand that, we can work, through reason and by respecting our emotional well-being, to heal the wound.

Rejection, as many writers have pointed out, isn’t personal. It’s a matter of subjectivity and timing.

Usually a rejection means not right for the publisher, for the project, for the theme of the anthology or issue, for the other stories that have already been accepted. And it means not right now. It doesn’t mean never.

Timing and subjectivity.

It’s not personal.

Why does it hurt then?

Because of how we react to it. Because of the insecurities and doubts we harbour about our ability, our craft.

The good news is this: we can control the way we react to rejection. Not right away, but with time and practice, by understanding and honouring our emotional response to rejection, it gets easier to process.

More good news: if the reason we get rejected is because our craft and skills are not at the level they need to be, we can control that too. We keep practicing, we keep learning, we keep moving forward.

That’s the real danger of rejection: that you let it stop you.

You have to continually connect with who you are as a writer and the reasons you write. You have to, at the core, be completely okay with not getting published. It’s kind of Zen. Let go of your desire.

Write because you’re a writer. Commit to being the best writer you can be. And yes, the work is hard, but you can do it if you’re a writer. You can’t not do it.

So the key is to develop, not rhino-hide, but resilience, the ability to bounce back. It’s something you can learn to do.

This might help. Or not.

This is going to sound like cheese. Like some really old, smelly cheese, like Limburger, or Roquefort.

Writing is like falling in love.

See, the biggest risk of falling in love is that you open yourself up and you become vulnerable. You risk getting hurt. But that’s the only way to love is with your whole heart plastered on your sleeve. It’s the only way love becomes anything lasting or good or true.

Writing’s like that.

Writing is that.

So just like you know that any relationship requires work, and sacrifice, and time, know that the thing you love to do requires the same.

You’ll get your heart broken, sure, but breaks heal.

The other great thing is that every great protagonist is wounded. Pour your learned experience into your writing. It will be amazing.

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” ~~Hemingway.

Weirdmaste (the weirdo in me recognizes the weirdo in you), writing geeks.

Now go hug your words. Get romantic with your words. Create beautiful bouncing baby words.

Because this is what we do.

Muse-inks

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Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Sept 28-Oct 4, 2014

I think this week was taken over by Roz Morris and Diana Gabaldon 🙂

Novels aren’t movie scripts: how to write great dialogue in prose, by Roz Morris.

Roz has been busy with Peter Snell of Barton’s Bookshop recording Masterclass radio shows for Surrey Hills Community Radio. Now they’ve made them available as podcasts, too. You’ll miss out on the musical selections, but Roz is always careful to offer the artist and song title so you can have a listen on your own.

Plus, Roz offers excellent advice for NaNoWriMo prep on Writers & Artists.

Ruth Harris has fourteen (writer’s) block busters for you on Anne R. Allen’s blog.

What if your character has no arc? K.M. Weiland discusses the differences between a flat arc and no character arc and whether or not it’s possible, let alone permissible, to write a novel about a character without an arc.

Agent Sarah Negovetich’s Hey, Sarah! In which she discusses how she works with self published authors.

 

Last week, I featured Chris Winkle’s post on Mythcreants about the heroine’s journey. Having read Maureen Murdock (both The Heroine’s Journey and The Hero’s Daughter), I was naturally interested. Now Chris has supplemented that with this post about villains who follow the heroine’s journey. Effective examples of how the heroine’s journey can be used in your novel.

Banned books week was two weeks ago, but I found this Huffington Post article interesting in retrospect: banned books by the numbers.

Maureen Ryan wrote this thoughtful article for The Huffington Post about Outlander’s wedding episode and what it means for the female viewer. Is television’s sexual revolution finally coming of age? I get to watch this tonight because the Canadian affiliate started the series two weeks late (probably by agreement). #ohcruelfate

Visit Scotland has an exclusive three part interview with Diana Gabaldon about her inspiration for the Outlander series of books and its resulting television series on Starz.

i09’s Charlie Jane Anders offers this list of ten characters that totally wasted their immortality.

Hop you enjoy these offerings, my writerly friends.

See you Thursday!

Tipsday

Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, Sept 21-27, 2014

I keep catching myself as I write these posts. Though I know it’s September, I keep on wanting to type August in the date (!) And here we are, almost at the end of September and I haven’t gotten used to typing the month yet.

Just a wee testimony, I think, to just how tired I am these days 😛 That, or just how crappy a summer it’s been here in northern Ontario. I’m still waiting for a few nice days. Just a few. Can we have August weather in October, please?

Find out why K.M. Weiland says you’ve been writing sentences incorrectly all your life. All about the impact sentence.

The wrong way to write a smart character. Katie gets feisty about Sir Kenneth Branagh’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

Jami Gold explores how we can balance emotion in our writing without telling too much.

Laura Drake on the conscious use of adverbs. Writers in the Storm.

Dan Blank wants to help you create capacity on Writer Unboxed.

Chris Winkle shares how to use the heroine’s journey (as outlined by Maureen Murdock) in your novel. Mythcreants.

This is an older i09 post that saw a little renewed circulation this week: The seven deadly sins of religion in science fiction.

33 books to read to celebrate banned books week. BuzzFeed.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet was Irish, not Danish. IrishCentral.

Slow reading helps your brain and eases stress. The Wall Street Journal.

An old favourite from The Oatmeal: how to use a semicolon.

Have a fabulous week, everyone!

Tipsday