Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Avoider

I'm an avoider. And really, I'm a pro at it.

Anyone who has known me longer than five minutes can tell you that I'm a hermit, but my closest friends will testify that my antisocial habits extend much further than that. While many people thrive on butterfly conversation--that is, the kind of talking that skims the surface and flits easily from one topic to another--and enjoy the act of "catching up," I would more willingly submit to unanesthetized dental surgery. My mother belongs to the social butterfly category, and cringes to see me duck my head and dash off to the restroom every time I catch sight of someone I wish to avoid. But I can't help it. Awkwardness is a form of unpleasantness my genetic chemistry has engineered me to dodge at all costs. My fight-or-flight impulse, while generally trained on Fight in the case of conflict or danger, switches instantly to Flight every time I find myself in a position that makes me uncomfortable.

But social discomfort is only one of the items included in the inventory of things I am inclined to avoid. Imagine my horror when I discovered that my own writing could make its way onto the list.

About two months ago I received a rejection from an agent I had pinned some serious hopes on. And before you go judging me for having unfounded and premature expectations, allow me to say that this agent had been extremely excited when she read my first twenty pages. So excited that she called me just to say that she was excited.

I need hardly say that I was excited, too, but I did my best to rain on my own parade. I'd had far too much experience with agents to delude myself into wild, soaring hopes now. And yet, for all of that, the eventual rejection crushed me. Not because it was unkind--far from it--but because my capacity for dealing with the word "No" had finally reached some kind of breaking point. What should have been a little speedbump in my path became a roadblock that loomed before me like Mount Doom.

And suddenly I didn't want to have anything to do with the book that had just been rejected. The discomfort I associated with my failure began to leech into everything related to writing, and before long I was avoiding even the act of writing itself.

My morning writing time became morning Pinterest time. I directed my creative energies into loads of mug painting and Etsy posting. I satisfied my craving for stories with other peoples' books. I watched a lot of Doctor Who. And all the while I felt lopsided, aimless, anxious, and empty.

I'm writing in the past tense, but I haven't made it out of the dark yet. Like the wee nasty beasties Anxiety and Panic (which many writers fight regularly), creative self-doubt is a clever and cunning enemy. It can't be reasoned with, and it isn't easily pushed aside, and even now, it climbs up on my shoulder whenever I start to consider what I might attempt to work on next. You can't, it whispers nastily. You'll just make a mess of things again, and end up with more rejections for your collection. Wake up and smell the failure, why don't you? You can't write books.

And yet it occurs to me that the only way to shake free of it is to do the thing I have, in two short months, convinced myself I cannot do, and write. I have tentatively started on several projects, but I'm posting this here in order to confess my cowardice and say that I am determined to carry on. I will not be defeated, and for once in my life, I will face head-on the thing I want most to avoid.

I hate ending blog posts without some kind of conclusive, tangible encouragement, but I suppose every once and a while you have to ask other people to encourage you. So if you have battled against self-doubt, weariness, and failure, and come out into hope and optimism once again, do share how you managed it! I'd love to hear all about it.

(And for Heaven's sake, stay tuned. I solemnly swear that my next post will be as lighthearted as they come.)


  1. Oh, how gutting. I'm sorry. :(

    But you ARE a writer, and a good one at that. You ARE. There are people (like me) who enjoy reading what you write and want you to write more -- and someday, that group of people will be a lot larger.

    Your rejection letters are badges of honour. The more you have the more evidence that you're going out there into the fray, championing your work and your characters. A valiant knight keeps fighting, even if he does not yet have a lady to give him favour. :) (The medievalist in me had to bring it back to things medieval.)

    Sit down and write, and write for yourself. With no expectations for WHAT it is that you're writing. Only that you are a writer, and writing is as important to you as breathing. Write, breathe.

  2. Thank you, Chera. I don't know why these sorts of battles are so very difficult, but I am grateful for your encouragement and support. And I do appreciate the medieval metaphor! It is much more romantic to think of overcoming rejection as a kind of dragon-slaying, isn't it? :) You're quite right, though. The dragon wins when you stop writing--and you, the writer, lose all. Onwards!

  3. though you have avoidance tendencies (like many of us...eek!) you are far more courageous than you give yourself credit for. i believe in your ability to create beautiful stories through words. i believe in your fight-to-the-death stamina. i believe in you. i see courage & perseverance when i look at you. chin up, kid. it'll happen for you. i believe it.

  4. Thanks, Em. You're a wonderful support. You've more than your share of courage and perseverance, too, and I am continually encouraged by you. :)

  5. The things worth fighting for are often the most difficult battles, but that will make the victory only all the more sweet. Get back in the saddle, hoist your lance, draw your sword, and enter once more into the Forest of Writing! Courage! Onward!

  6. Well, Blerg. Rejection sucks. And it makes even the most determined of us question our dreams and whether or not we are good enough.

    You are a good writer. Don't question that. The work it takes to get published is one thing, but your writing is another. You've got talent, sista.

    Even though you are a self-proclaimed hermit, you've somehow managed to create a group of people that love you and will support you to the death. So many people don't have that. No matter how many times you are rejected that group of people will always support and encourage you.

    P.S. If you need a way to get your creative juices flowing, how about a short story about the adventures a green-eyed beauty who is SUPER funny and mysterious and awesome?

  7. I've been rejected a few times. And not just in the writing life ;) I don't have great advice for you aside from jumping back in and writing something. It sucks to get told no, especially after someone in the industry is really excited to read your work! Like I told you the other day, I'm REALLY bummed for you.

    But SUNCHILD was a great read! You're going to make it to the big time if I have anything to say about it (which I don't, but if I did...!).

    Stick it out! It's okay to take time off. Just, please, don't stop. I want to read more of your writing :D

  8. Chera: Thanks. :) Consider my sword unsheathed and ready for battle.

    Ash: Thank you, GFF. You're right: I don't know how I ended up with such an amazing group of supporters, but that blessing is one I would absolutely be lost without. And if anything will keep my creative ideas flowing, it is the looming threat of having to write a book about a girl with green eyes and dark hair, who is super funny, and mysterious and awesome. :)

    Giles: Thanks again for your commiseration. :) This whole process is such a lousy thing at times, but I am so grateful to be doing it alongside such wonderful people as yourself. We will persevere.

    And to Katie and Lauren, whose comments have somehow been eaten by Cyberspace: Thank you for your support and your kind words. I know you both understand this battle in your own ways, and I appreciate your encouragement so much. Let's all hang in there together!