Rejection is a big topic in the writing world.
Getting over the fear of your writing being rejected. Rejected by your friends, family, publishers, critics, etcetera. But I think there’s another kind of rejection not touched on quite as much. And that’s being rejected by yourself.
I’m not really talking about what you’re writing now. We know our writing isn’t perfect when we write it, but as authors, we usually get over it. We have to if we ever want someone else to read it. But that’s a different topic.
What I’m talking about are past writings. Past stories, books, and poetry.
Because obviously, whether you are twelve or twenty-one, your writing improves over time. And before long, what you wrote a year ago seems pretty terrible compared to what you’re writing now. And when you get to the point when your past writing feels terrible, often authors start a writing re-call.
If you posted that old story online: You take it down.
If you self-published it: you take it down.
If you gave a copy to a friend: you get it back and throw it away.
If it’s a draft: You completely re-write it.
Sometimes, if it’s really old, you might delete it entirely. (Do NOT do this. Ever. Seriously, you will regret it.)
Inside, you are cringing with embarrassment, and hoping that no one you showed your story to will remember it.
I’m not saying that this isn’t a valid feeling, it is. I’ve felt it too. But if writing is your passion, and especially if you want to make it your profession someday, then there’s something you need to consider.
Every author ever feels this way. And I’m not just talking teen writers and self-publishers. I mean everyone.
I once asked a traditionally published author I know: “Do you ever feel embarrassed by your book?”
His answer: “Yep. Every single day.”
And I’m willing to bet he’s not the only one.
Think of all your favorite authors’ names. J K Rowling, Kate Dicamillo, J R R Tolkien, C S Lewis, and Shakespeare. I bet that they all looked back on their books, the ones you love, the ones you read over and over again, and cringe.
Actually, I don’t need to bet. I know. Here’s what Stephen King said about re-reading one of his older books.
“…As a result, I was not surprised to find a high degree of pretension in Roland’s debut appearance (not to mention what seemed like thousands of unnecessary adverbs).”
But what would have happened if they started a writing re-call? Can you imagine “Harry Potter” or “The Lord of the Rings” Disappearing from the market because the author was too embarrassed?
But I’m not as good a writer as them! You might be saying.
Okay, maybe you’re not. I think we can agree that very few of us could match their writing quality. But when it comes to embarrassment, writing quality doesn’t matter; all writers go through the same struggle, no matter how good their books are.
And please don’t say that nobody really cares about your writing. They do. Even if only three people ever read your books, those are three intricate, unique, wonderful individuals, with lives as complicated as your own. And they chose your story out of millions.
Don’t deny your readers the gift of your imagination because you’re too embarrassed by your story. You are your worst critic, and will always judge yourself the harshest.
Here’s something else that the author I know said.
“Millie, someday you realize, you’re going to feel embarrassed about your writing. You may even think it’s terrible. I don’t think of it that way, I think it’s really good. But you probably will, because it’s a sign you’re getting better at writing. Just remember, at some point in life, you have to own your words. You have to acknowledge that ‘this is what I believed at the time, this is what I said at the time, this was my best at the time, and I’m okay with that.’”
But my story is really bad! You might be saying.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ever take your writing down. (My policy is that original writing stays, but I can do what I want with fan fiction.) But here’s another piece of advice from Mr. King, also talking about re-reading one of his old books.
“In any case, I didn’t want to muzzle or even really change the way this story is told; for all its faults, it has its own special charms, it seems to me. To change it too completely would have been to repudiate the person who first wrote of the gunslinger in the late spring and early summer of 1970, and that I did not want to do.”
And another price from Aldous Huxley, talking about his critically acclaimed classic, Brave New World.
“And this is why this new Brave New World is the same as the old one. Its defects as a work of art are considerable; but in order to correct them I should have to rewrite the book – and in the process of rewriting, as an older, other person, I should probably get rid not only of some of the faults of the story, but also of such merits as it originally possessed. And so, resisting the temptation to wallow in artistic remorse, I prefer to leave both well and ill alone and to think about something else.”
So. Be true to your former self, and don’t scorn them. Own your words. It may be hard (just like owning this overly dramatic sentence will be for me) but we’ve got to do it.
docendo disco, scribendo cogito,
– Millie Florence