I've learned a lot about how to take rejection by watching Top Chef.
Yes, I said Top Chef. God, I love this show; there's no other reality contest show like it.
It eschews (most of) the drama that weighs down other reality television while being a week-by-week contest that whittles down the chefs to the very best of the best, AND no other contest show, that I can think of, has such thoughtful, debatable and deeply subjective tastes (literally) to divide the great from the sublime. You often hear criticisms that split hairs between wonderful dishes.
The critiques are sometimes furious and always deeply personal. These chefs are craftsmen and women that have dedicated much of their adult lives to making food--a great many thankless hours have been spent in hot, sweaty kitchens to hone their skills.
One thing I've gleaned from the many seasons of Top Chef is that the chefs that win are consistently the most good natured, and handle criticism very well. Not always--Hung from Season 3 is a good example of the opposite--but more often than not, the winners have been at the bottom as much as the top, and they learn from their mistakes. They don't bitch and moan. They take their lumps, recognize their mistakes, and continue forward. Arguably the most talented and successful chef to come out of Top Chef has been Richard Blais, and he didn't even win his season, BUT he learned from his mistakes, took his loss (or rejection) in stride, and eventually returned on another season and WON.
To that end, writers get used to rejection.
Rejection happens. Any writer worth his or her salt has been rejected time and time again. Even those that have "made it"--that is, writers that have been/are traditionally published--have extolled on the realities of continuing to get rejected. I think most of us who have taken up the mantle of "writer" have realized that our work will be rejected over and over and over again.
Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes...and a writer getting rejected.
At the beginning, it's heart wrenching. You go through stages of denial, cry, scream, think about sending a scathing reply to that agent, editor or CP that got it oh so wrong, and then console yourself. Eventually, you blow it off and get back to work.
When your write long enough, it becomes part of the routine. It's normal. Those rejections keep coming. It's even funny at times. Lightly frustrating at others. But you grow thick skin. Callouses. And the rejections that once wounded you, bounce off like nerf darts rather than the bullets they once were.
There's one thing that still bothers me, cuts me open: when agents or editors try to pretty up rejection into something its not, like--as that old adage goes--putting lipstick on a pig. I often see literary agents saying something along the lines of, "I'm not rejecting YOU; I'm rejecting your BOOK. It's not personal."
Look, I understand the sentiment. I can't imagine being in the position of looking over snippets of people's lives--that's what a book, any book, no matter how fantastical, IS--quickly weighing the pro's and con's, and possibly wrecking that person's day with a rejection. It can't be easy.
But don't pretend it's not a rejection of the author, the PERSON, because it is, just as much it's a rejection of the BOOK. To some extent, they are one and the same, because after months, YEARS even, a writer has poured much of him or herself into that book, so much so, that that book is essentially an extension of that person.
There was an agent/former editor of a publishing house who recently tweeted that, "Rejection is a kindness," and then created a thread explaining why it's a kindness. I couldn't help except think that her explanations were nothing other than window dressing for the natural viciousness for the entire publishing process.
The reality is that it's not a "kindness." Publishing is cutthroat and difficult, and often without explanation. It isn't palatable. It isn't even fun most of the time. Sure, there are great friendships and bonds created throughout, but it's difficult, frustrating, and very, very personal.
While I understand the desire for agents and editors to explain it away as not personal or that it's a kindness, it just isn't and the attempts to do so seem somewhat insulting to our intelligence.
Saying all of this is not to excuse the sometimes vicious response from authors that have been rejected by agents. Being rejected should never turn into a debasement of the person who rejected. Rejection is an opportunity to learn, to change, even to adapt. It whittles you down to your essence. It makes you reconsider, reread and further edit.
Rejection isn't a kindness. It's a necessity. And it's always personal.