I wasn’t happy with my photos from the latest East Peoria Throwdown last weekend, so Friday night after my workout I turned my camera back upon myself to shoot a quick self portrait to coincide with a blog post I’ve been noodling.
Behind me, you can get a glimpse of my weight lifting routine. I’m on a four-day split now, working Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. I just finished my first week of the new routine and I think this is the one I’ll stick with for the next month or so.
Muscle is the best way to protect the body from injury. In sparring—or street fighting, for that matter—a good layer of muscle can prevent injury from kicks and punches. Take a fall, strong muscle and bone reinforced by resistance training provide protection. I’ve also read a few stories about body builders who survived nasty car accidents thanks to the thick slabs of muscle shielding their organs, and their subsequent recoveries have gone much faster and smoother thanks to their workout habits.
How does one build up that armor? Hard work. Pick up heavy things, put them down, repeat. In that same sense, I got to thinking about the work to build up one’s armor for writing and other creative outlets.
If a writer is going to expose his talent to the world, be it for self-indulgence or profit, he’s going to need to build up a different layer of armor. The writer needs to shield himself from the sting of rejection and bad reviews. These things are always disappointing, even for the pros, but they are a part of the business and must be accepted.
Get idea onto the page, send it out into the world, repeat. When a writer receives a scathing review or rejection letter, he must learn to shrug it off and move on to the next project. Keep going. Work to improve his craft and find his audience. That what does not kill us makes us stronger, right? This is very true in writing.
There are two signs a writer’s armor is weak: he either throws up his hands and quits or he argues with the editor or reviewer in question. The first, I think, speaks for itself. If the writer just can’t handle rejection, especially as the rejections continue to pile up, then they need to find a new line of work.
The second sign is a little trickier. I’ve seen writers engage in arguments with reviewers on message boards, in blog comments, and even via Amazon reviews. I’ve been shown emails from writers who try to justify their work to an editor who has just rejected them, ranging from pleas for a second chance to outright scorn and abuse. This is a mistake. At best, it makes the writer look like a whiner, and at worst it makes them look like a prima donna asshole. In no case have I seen it do the writer do a bit of good.
Yes, there are times a reviewer or editor may miss something. There are times they will be wrong. Maybe they skimmed passages, maybe they skipped chapters. Maybe they just didn’t have their coffee that day, or maybe you screwed up your synopsis. Shit happens. Move on.
If a writer has one one-star review and a half-dozen four- and five-star reviews, this is not the end of the world. If a writer has twelve one-star reviews and one or two five-star reviews, then it’s time to understand that everyone’s entitled to a flop. They can’t all be gold. Once again, shit happens. Move on.
Creative media are very subjective. Sure, an editor or reviewer may make an objective analysis and say “This is very well written. This writer knows how to string a sentence together and grasps basic grammar.” However, unless the work also trips the part of their brain that leads to a subjective comment like “Wow, this book is awesome!” an editor is not going to publish the book and the reviewer is not going to give it a positive review.
Example: Stephen King is a craftsman. The man can write. That’s objective. Consider, though, how many people either love him and say he’s one of the best storytellers to walk the Earth or hate him and say he’s just a hack who got lucky. That’s subjective. The same can be said of Heinlein, Poe, Hemingway, Laymon, Barker, Hammett, Doyle, or any other writer I can name from any genre.
If someone at Stephen King’s level is not going to please everybody, then you sure as hell aren’t going to, either.
Get idea onto the page, send it out into the world, repeat. This is the job. Armor up.