Rejection, the secret place, & fundamentals

August 21, 2015

From writer, producer, & director Brian Koppelman, on rejection (emphasis mine):

You must do a dispassionate evaluation. The step you try to take is, “Okay, that’s a body blow. My emotional reaction is anger and hurt. Now let me step back and dispassionately, to the best of my ability, evaluate the rejection.

Is there something in that rejection that hits home in the secret place, where I know the thing is flawed? If it does, is that addressable? If it doesn’t, are the fundamental things I believe about this still true? If they are, let’s press on. If they’re not, can we fix it? If we can’t, maybe that rejection is right.

But dispassion is really important. You have to know it’s not a rejection of you, and you have to be able to find a way to evaluate. But … it’s a very fine line, for artists especially, between delusion and belief. And so many people are deluded in the belief that they’re great, the work is great, and that everybody else is crazy. But the problem is that the artists that succeed also have that exact same narrative.

When I heard this, I instantly knew it was true, because I’ve experienced it myself.

When I first started getting feedback on Wage Slave Rebellion, a common criticism was of the footnotes. There were too many of them, and they weren’t good enough to warrant the interruption.

When I read that criticism, it stung somewhere deep inside. That’s how I eventually realized they were right.

It’s hard to explain what I mean. Most criticism stings. Someone tells you they hated your work, that it did nothing for them, and that hurts. Writing a book is a deeply personal endeavor, and until you build up a tolerance or have enough books to be confident in the efficacy of the thing you’re doing, it’ll hurt a lot. And it’ll always hurt to some degree.

But that’s a surface-level sting. When some readers said they hated all of my footnotes, or they didn’t like something else which I loved, I was able to brush it aside. It can still derail you for a day, and make you wonder if you’re any good at this—which is why most writers don’t read reviews of their work, by the way. And probably why I’m an idiot for doing it.

That’s not the sting I’m talking about. I’m talking about the sting that hits you deep inside, that makes you wince and go, “Damn … they’re right, aren’t they?” It might be instant, or it might take you a while to come to terms with, but if you’re dispassionate about analyzing the criticism of your work, you can come to the truth.

It reminds me of an old decision-making trick: If you’re deciding between two choices, flip a coin. Whichever side it lands on doesn’t matter. Just watch your reaction. Whether relief or disappointment, it will uncover what you had subconsciously decided deep inside.

But none of this works if you don’t believe in the fundamentals. If you still believe in them, and if they remain true, everything else is just details, and details can be ironed out. You’ll notice that Wage Slave Rebellion is still available for sale. Those early criticisms were addressable, so I fixed the problem, and my book is stronger for it.

As for whether I’m delusional or not, only time will tell.

As always, thank you for using my Amazon Affiliate link (info).

By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.

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