Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chocolate-Covered Rejection by Robin Burcell

Robin Burcell, an FBI-trained forensic artist, has worked as a police officer, detective and hostage negotiator. The Bone Chamber is her latest international thriller about an FBI forensic artist. Face of a Killer received a starred review from Library Journal. She is the author of four previous novels. Visit her website at:

A few months ago, Robin Burcell was a guest on
Meanderings and Muses with a tongue- in-cheek blog post about trying to make her book video trailer (which can be seen here) go viral. THE BONE CHAMBER was released in paperback this January. With her book tour over, it’s time for her to submit a new proposal to her editor for the next thriller in her FBI forensic art series. But with that submission comes the very real possibility that her editor might reject it. And then what?

Writing is such a solitary profession, it helps to know that other writers experience similar feelings. This is Robin’s updated take on the subject of rejection, something she penned back when she first started writing, and something that she believes still holds true today.

Chocolate-Covered Rejection by Robin Burcell

We writers live with constant stress. Mailing off manuscripts is a trial in itself. So is the anticipation of checking the answering machine each day, hoping that The Call is waiting for you when you get home. You count the blinking lights indicating the number of messages. How many messages were you expecting? Is The Call among them? It’s enough to raise your blood pressure.

Worse yet is the dread of checking the mailbox. You pray fervently that you won’t find your manuscript contained within, because if you do, you have just entered the realm that all writers fear: The dreaded “R” word. Rejection.

How do we live with it? How do we plod on, forcing ourselves back to the keyboard after yet another priority package received from the postman sends us into a tailspin of depression?

I don’t have a clear cut answer. I only know from my own experience the intense wave of self-doubts about my writing ability after taking my mail key, opening the box and seeing that red, white and blue envelope that I so carefully labeled with my return address. (Or these days, checking my e-mail and finding the one from my agent that details her conversation with my editor about my latest proposal.) Of course, I pretend to myself it is no big deal, and after reading the dreaded news, I think rather flippantly, “Oh well.” But then I sit in a daze for several minutes, with no desire to write anything ever again.
I know I need help and so call a fellow writer, test the news out on her. She, of course, assures me that no, I am not a failure, and yes, I will come out of my rejection-induced slump. She suggests eating chocolate. Not only will I feel better, but within a day or two, I’ll be back at my keyboard.

A day or two? If I wait that long, the melancholy that threatens to engulf me will win. I don’t feel like writing. I want to cry. But being a professional, I contemplate her suggestion. I go to the refrigerator, find a forgotten chocolate bar of my daughter’s, take it back to my computer. I open the candy and promptly devour it, waiting for the miraculous cure. At first, nothing happens, and I blame it on the cheap quality of the chocolate. But then, while I sit patiently before my computer, staring at my unfinished chapter—all the while wondering if perhaps I ought not to run to the store and get some seriously expensive chocolate—a funny thing happens.

I discover a small typo.

I correct it and soon find another. It glares out, asks to be fixed. Before I know it, I find myself typing whole words into real sentences. Soon there is an entire paragraph and by the end of the evening, I finish the chapter. I survive! I want to shout to everyone that it isn’t the end of the world after all.

I can still write!

So what’s the moral of my story? One should handle a rejection letter (or e-mail) the same as any other obstacle. You have to get right back into that saddle. Get to that keyboard and write, write, write. (And if it is not writing that you are pursuing, get back into the saddle and try, try again no matter what the goal.) But just in case, keep a supply of chocolate on hand. I plan on storing mine in the freezer for that psychological edge, since I hope never to have to pull it out again. But when I need it, its only a thaw away.

So how do you handle rejection? Whether it is a story submission or a proposal for a deal at work. What is your comfort technique to get past the R word?


N. J. Lindquist said...

I SO identify. Not just with rejections, either, but every time someone reads what I've written, I seem to hold my breath, afraid they're going to tell me they hated it. I want them to like it because, I guess, a part of me is in it.

But you can't please everybody, so life has to go on, and so does the writing. So after a few moments or hours of doubting myself and my talent, and some dark chocolate (I buy the the healthiest kind when it's on sale), I return to putting one word after the other. Because, ultimately, whether any one else likes it or not, it's what I do.

Vicki Lane said...

Such a good post, Robin! I remember when I was querying agents, how, as the rejection letters came back, my body began to ache -- I think I was constantly tensed as if someone was about to hit me. And then it was all to do over again in the sending the ms. around.

I wish I'd thought of chocolate.

Pat Brown said...

As someone who's been getting a lot of rejections lately as I try to get an agent, I've found that the only thing that works is to have other projects on the go. I've recently started research on a new novel set in 1920s Hollywood so the research is heavy. I no longer fret over the rejections I get because I've moved on. There's still the momentary sting, then I go back to reading and searching for material. Not having time to be dwell on it, the depression is very short lived. If you start dwelling, that's when the paralysis will set in and make you doubt yourself too much.

jenny milchman said...

Thanks for sharing your take, Robin. I agree, chocolate, writing, and...for me, fantasy. I picture the day rejection gives way to yes. Suddenly I believe it and I am writing again.

Anonymous said...

I think that whenever you put your "baby" out there to see what someone thinks, there is that literal holding of one's breath. Will they like it? Won't they?

Actually this starts well before the point of putting it out there...

Judy Clemens said...

You're right on with all of this, Robin. It's so easy to sit there and think there's no point in ever writing anything again.

Becke Davis said...

I've got quite a collection of rejections. What does it say about me that I'm kind of excited my rejections are getting nicer and more detailed? Is that sick?

It seems to me writers need validation more than people in other careers. My critique partners and I share the joys of writing and the misery. A sale gets virtual fireworks, but we are equally quick to mourn a rejection or a harsh comment from a contest judge.

Imposter syndrome is always hovering, trying to keep our fingers from the keyboard. I do the same "oh well" thing, and I usually mean it, in a way.

Rejection is a part of the process, and I realize those rejections I've received and the harsh comments from contests have actually helped improve my writing.

I just wish there was an easier way!

Anonymous said...

Actually, Becke, what it says is that you are that much closer to your goal! There is truth in reading between the lines when it comes to rejection letters. If an editor or agent is taking the time out of their busy schedule to type a real correspondence as opposed to the nothing added to it form rejection, then they noticed something there.

I'm sure others can add to this idea. It's what I've heard. Anyone else?

I really don't think they bother when it is the same old, same old.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Definitely chocolate. I like the dark Lindt 85% cocoa bars. I need to stock up because I'm starting an agent search soon. :)

roamingwriter said...

These are good words. I too often let rejections stop me for a while. The chocolate can't hurt either. I've found lately that blogging is a nice pick me up since no one can nullify my efforts.

roamingwriter said...

These are good words. I too often let rejections stop me for a while. The chocolate can't hurt either. I've found lately that blogging is a nice pick me up since no one can nullify my efforts.

Anonymous said...

Something that really worked for me beyond chocolate? My agent told me the following: Cry for a day, then get over it.

(She might have said it more eloquently than that, but truer words were never spoken. Once I took them to heart, I realized that it was okay to become upset, but get it out of your system and get cracking on that next project, or risk forever wallowing in pity.)