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Friday, November 5, 2010

Look who else was rejected! Some lessons for Writers from The Drunkard's Walk

Can a drunkard give you hope? The answer is Yes! Scratch the surface of any writer and you'll uncover a deep fear of rejection. Your lot as a writer seems to depend on others, and every single day you think of the high odds against you, and of the next rejection – by an agent or a publisher.
But there is some good news for you, if you are prepared to learn some lessons from The Drunkard's Walk, Leonard Mlodninow's magnificent book on how randomness rules our lives.
Leonard makes the point that we "habitually underestimate the effects of randomness". And his dissection of the impact of random events on our lives should give every writer who wants to break into the Big Time hope.
Take this obeservation from his book:
Suppose four publishers have rejected the manuscript for your thriller about love, war, and global warming. Your intuition and the bad feeling in the pit of your stomach might say that the rejections by all those publishing experts mean your manuscript is no good. But is your intuition correct? Is your novel unsellable?
Loraine and I just love his reference to a manuscript about global warming – that man is psychic, make no bones about it!
Leonard goes on – and writers the world over should memorize these words and recite them as a mantra every time they wake up, look in the mirror, and fear rejection:
Could it be that publishing success is so unpredictable that even if our nevel is destined for the best-seller list, numerous publishers could miss the point and send those letters that say thanks but no thanks?
J.K. Rowlands
He goes on to give a list of published authors who were rejected, with some quotes from the thank you but no thanks letters. Sylvia Plath was rejected for lack of enough genuine talent. George Orwell was rejected because animal stories would not sell in the U.S. Tony Hillerman was rejected by an
agent and advised to get rid of all that Indian stuff in his manuscripts. John Grisham had one manuscript rejected by 26 publishers, and 27 publishers rejected the first book of Dr. Seuss. Even J.K. Rowland had her first Harry Potter manuscript rejected by 9 publishers before she got that all-important Yes.
For a list of 50 famous writers who were rejected many times, click here.
And now for the kicker – Leonard's conclusion on your chances of getting published and winning fame and fortune. His good news? You do stand a chance:
There exists a vast gulf of randomness and uncertainty between the creation of a great novel ... and the presence of huge stacks of that novel ... at the front of thousands of retail outlets. That's why successful people in every field are almost universally members of a certain set – the set of people who don't give up. A lot of what happens to us – success in our careers, in our investments, and in our life decisions, both major and minor – is as much the result of random factors as the result of skill, preparedness, and hard work.
Thelma Toole
As a writer clutching a just-finished manuscript in your hot hand, you probably need to learn how to become a Happy Loser, as Clotaire Rapille, the noted archetype psychoanalyst and ethnographer, calls successful sales people:
Salespeople sometimes say to me, "I don't like that you call me a loser." But that's not what I mean. Happy losers are people who see rejection as a challenge. If 95 percent of the time you are rejected, you have to ask yourself, "Why did I choose this kind of life?" The happy loser likes it because 5 percent of the time, he wins. And all those times he loses, he sees as getting to the win.
This lesson from The Drunkard's Walk came too late for author John Kennedy Toole, who lost hope and committed suicide at the age of 31 on an isolated road outside Biloxi, Mississippi, by connecting a garden hose from his idling car to his cabin; his mother kept seeking a publisher for his manuscript and eleven years later A Confederacy of Dunces was published – testimony to a mother's unwillingness to give up.

1 comment:

  1. I designed a game called Rejection Therapy back in 2009 to encourage myself to get out of my comfort zone more. It was amazingly effective and enlightening (for as long as I did it).

    If anyone wants to try it, it's here: http://rejectiontherapy.com

    ReplyDelete

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