By Josi S. Kilpack.
The kind of rejection I want to talk about today isn't from agents and editors; it isn't letters in the mail we open while holding our breath, or emails we stare at until we have the strength to read the body of the message. Those rejections suck. Really, really suck and if you're going to be a writer, you have to find some way to deal with those rejections. However, this post is about the rejection that sometimes comes from people you love and care about, people who may have cheered you on in the past, who may have even encouraged your toward your writing goal. These people might be friends, neighbors, siblings, parents, children, or even a spouse--the people you expect to be in your court, the people who are supportive of many other things in your life. But then you proclaim yourself to be a writer and things change.
Here are some examples--not necessarily writing related:
A very close friend of mine is also an entrepreneur. He's started numerous businesses in numerous industries for many years and has been very successful. A few years ago he was telling his mother about the new business he was starting and she stopped him and said, point blank, "I really hate hearing about your businesses, can't we talk about something else." It's been three years, and he hasn't talked about his work or his passion since.
One of my closest-girl friends was so excited for me when I wrote my first book. She was the first person, other than my husband and sister, that I dared tell about it and she was so encouraging to me . . . until I got a contract. We had moved to different homes by that time (we previously were neighbors) and so we saw each other less frequently, but when we spoke, she never brought up my book or asked about my writing. Not one time. At one point, around the time when my second book came out, we met up and I brought up my book that I was so excited about. I actually saw her face stiffen and her eyes narrow and after a "hmmm, that's nice" she launched into things about her kids. It was so blatant and so hurtful, but I never brought up my writing again, even though by this time it was a major force of my life.
Another friend of mine chose to pursue writing but her husband thought it was a waste of her time. He saw it as a hobby, and a time-consuming one at that, and does not want talk to her about, listen to story ideas, or read her work. At this point she's hopeful that when she gets a publishing contract, he'll be more supportive and he'll see her writing as a real thing, but for now it's a secret affair she works hard to keep under wraps.
Lastly, another friend--a writer--found the success he'd been working towards for years; a national contract. It didn't take long before he started noticing some of his writer-friends pulling away. Through the grapevine he heard of things some 'friends' said about his book, that it wasn't that good, or they didn't know why it was selling that well, and they stopped talking to him about their books and their careers. It was as though his success became a barrier between him and some of those people he thought would be on the first row of his cheering squad--people who had encouraged him when he was working toward his goal.
Obviously, there is an element of sadness in all of these examples. Because you're reading this, you understand what an innate part of yourself writing can be. When someone rejects our writing, it's nearly impossible not to take that personally--our words and our stories are a part of us. When the someone that rejects our writing is someone we care deeply about, it can be emotionally damaging. But what can we do?
First, arguing doesn't work. If you set out to 'convince' someone who isn't supportive to be supportive, you will likely be disappointed with the results--it's like paying someone to take you to prom, you'll never think back on the night and feel like your date was there because he/she wanted to be. The entire experience will be tainted and even if you successfully get them to cheer you on, you'll always doubt their sincerity.
Second, people are entitled to their opinions. As much as we would love to have their support, and as dependent as we feel on their approval, they have the right to feel the way they feel. It might not be fair and it might really hurt us, but it's still their choice to do so. Each of us likely has opinions about someone else in our lives--maybe we hate a friend's wife, or our politics aren't the same, or we value something like education or marriage or fry sauce that someone else feels is superfluous. We are entitled to a difference of opinion on these things, just as other people are entitled to theirs.
Third, we are in charge of our own actions. Just as they get to choose how they feel, we get to choose how we respond and we are then accountable for our actions. We can react any way we want to--rage, tears, sarcasm, but we then own what comes next. We can not blame them for what we choose to do with our feelings about their treatment so choose wisely the best way to move forward in your relationship with them.
In the example about the entrepreneur friend, he could have chosen to tell his mother she was rude and that she was rejecting a big part of his life if she didn't want to hear about his businesses--he'd be right, it was rude and rejecting of her to be so dismissive. And then what? Perhaps some mother-son relationships could sustain that kind of conversation, but he didn't feel that his could. Their relationship was tenuous and he didn't want to lose what he had, so he shut up and though it's been hurtful, it's less hurtful than losing the relationship entirely. He chose to take what he could get and is content with his choice.
In my example with my friend I didn't have to make much of a choice on how to react, life has taken us different places and we no longer have much of a connection. Likely a big part of the distance between us is because my life became more and more focused on my writing, and she had already chosen not to be involved in that part. I didn't fight for our friendship, and I miss her, but I've made other friends that better understand what my writing means to me and I feel a 'whole' acceptance from them that she could not offer.
In the example of the husband and wife, she only writes when he's not home, she only goes to events or conferences that are held when he's going to be out of town or that are during the day so she's back home when he gets there. They don't talk about her books, ever. Now, in this case I would probably suggest that she be a bit more assertive than I was with my friend. Marriage is a complex and sacred relationship, and her husband owes her more support than he's giving, but, then, I don't understand the complexities of her relationship and maybe she's doing the just right thing. I don't, however, think her husband will change his mind when she gets a contract--more on that later--which means she'll have to make some more decisions if she reaches that point and realizes the problems are not solved.
And, finally, in regard to my friend who noticed walls go up when he became successful, he had other friends who did encourage and support his accomplishments. He also went on to develop freindships with other similarly-successful authors who helped fill the voids and, perhaps, had gone through the same struggle. There were no confrontations or battles with the previous friends who had a difficult time, he allowed to be where they were, but nurtured more encouraging relationships.
You'll notice there are some similar reactions in all of these examples--none of the people were confrontational with their detractors, none of them put up a fight, and none of their relationships turned around--at least not yet. There's a reason I included these situations instead of a dozen others I've seen or been a part of, and it goes back to the second point I made in regard to how to react to it. People are entitled to their opinions and if we make it a priority to change their mind, we will likely fail and make these relationships even more painful. What we need to do, instead, is the following:
1--Love them anyway within the sphere or your relationship. Understand that their lack of support likely has less to do with "you" and more to do with "them." Perhaps they're jealous, perhaps your writing and/or success makes them feel small, perhaps they are afraid your writing will take them away from you. Imagine, if this is the case, how hard this must then be for them. We all know that creating sympathy for our characters is important--imagine writing this 'person' sympathetically, think about what might be in the way for them in regard to accepting and supporting you, and love them anyway. If however, the relationships has always been ugly and unsupportive, perhaps you should be evaluating the relationship in it's entirety--I have no specific advice in regard to that. Find a good counselor :-)
2--Stand up for yourself. This doesn't mean putting on a face mask and confronting them, but it also doesn't mean completely hiding who you are to make them more comfortable. If it's someone in your own home you need support from, tell them you need it and set up ways they can support you such as respecting a certain space as your writing area, or specific times as your writing time. They might not like it, but if you don't respect what you do and find room for it it in your life, they never will either. This can be tricky--you don't want the paid-for-prom-date scenario--so just do one thing at a time and see where it takes you. I do know writers who have successfully changed these types of relationships, and it happened because the non-supporter finally realized how important the writing was to the person he/she loved. Don't try and ignore this part of who you are, but don't throw it in their faces either. This is especially important in marriage relationships, where people have promised to support one another--it's not inappropriate for you to pull the 'married' card on this, but do it in a loving way and see it as a growing experience.
3--Find relationships that do support you. And keep looking until you find them. They are there, I promise you they are, but they might not come from the people you're surrounded by when you start your journey--then again, they might. You may be able to make changes in long-standing relationships and make them more positive through this, but keep your eyes open for new freindships and professional relationships that can also nurture your writing.
4--Make sure you are supportive of the people around you. You could very well be an un-cheerleader for someone you love and not even know it. Take a look at your family and friends, your spouses and children--are you in the front row, cheering them on in their passions, or are you in the back corner, nurturing your own resentment and envy? If you are bitter, why? What is it about their choice that is so difficult for you? Do you see YOUR writing as more important than their goals or passions? If so, I challenge you to take the journey to identify what might be in your way of supporting them and see if you can't do better. Self-awareness is a valuable experience.
5--Write anyway. Even if you have to make adjustments or have limits with your writing in order to keep important relationships in tact, don't let someone else choose for you in regard to making writing fit into your life. Writing for most of us feels like a calling, a role we were designed to fill, find a way to fill it, even if no one thinks you should. If you don't have the support of the people who could make this easier for you, don't give up--find a way to make it work somehow, pray for guidance, continue to grow. While the husband-wife scenario related earlier is troublesome and easy to judge that the husband is a jerk-face, I very much admire the fact that the wife has kept writing anyway. THAT, more than anything else will likely be the factor that changes his view of her. She is being diligent, and I admire that very much.
If you haven't yet dealt with any of this, prepare yourself for it because I don't know a single writer who hasn't faced this at some point. Some 'rejections' are more intense than others, but I think all of us will have someone who otherwise loves us but is threatened by our writing in one way or another. It's a sad reality, but reality all the same and, as I stated, once this happens, it's up to us how to deal with it.
May we find those people who will always be on our front row and may we never be the un-cheerleader for someone else's accomplishment. I'd love to hear your stories and how you've dealt with it in the comments if you feel like sharing.