November 18, 2009
Niles Reddick on Forgetting Rejections
Man, do I feel honored to follow Sharyn and Joshilyn, and while I won’t write about my old dog Harper Lee who I keep thinking has got to die this year since she’s 16 (and if she don’t maybe I’ll get into the Guinness Book of World Records), and I don’t remember that I’ve ever been on a writing retreat and probably couldn’t write a word if I was on one (though I think as writers we might could go on trips and call them retreats and write them off on taxes), I think I could say a few things about rejection because God knows I’ve experienced that plenty of times:
1. Give up the feeling! What does that mean? It’s the moment you get an envelope (now it could be an email). You see the return address or the email address and you close your eyes like you are a child wishing on a star or praying Santa will overlook all those bad deeds. Then, you read it and you have that sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach, you have that frustrated feeling, and you just want to give up. You can’t give up and know it, so move on beyond the feeling of it. I don’t know if talking to yourself will help or not. It never helped me. It’s like those imaginary friends kids had that I never had. It seemed rather stupid, but hey, if it makes you feel better, talk to yourself. Pump yourself up with all the Dr. Phil and Oprah pop psychology you can, or just quietly resolve to forget it, which leads to the next point.
2. Forget it because you will. It may take a few days or weeks or years, but once those rejections clog a file in a cabinet or a special folder in your Outlook mail, and you’ve finally published the book, you will have forgotten about those files of rejections. You might, however, go back to those files. I do. Read them again all at once and laugh. The form letters are the best, so Oxford appropriate. Once in a while, you have a publisher or agent who actually read your submission (10 pages, 20 pages, 30 pages, the whole manuscript if you’re lucky) and comment and inspire you with a little hope. Sometimes, they even suggest revisions, which won’t work at all. But sooner or later, you’ll forget them because they aren’t what is important—just like we forget what at one time were somehow meaningful events in our lives—age does that. A childhood friend of mine and I got together last year and talked, and in our 5th grade play, he thought he played George Washington and I played Lord North. I had it in my memory banks just the opposite. I asked my parents and they didn’t remember either!!! I thought they were supposed to remember all those things for us! Then, I saw another old friend from high school in the courthouse and he remembered a drunken night a group of us had in Atlanta on a school trip. I didn’t remember going. I emailed 2 other old high school friends (or should I say I face-booked them?). One responded I was there and the other one responded I wasn’t there. The best example of forgetting is my trip last spring to Disney World. I got a good deal (I’m all about the deal) and stayed on one of the Disney properties (don’t recall the name, but it looked like an Incan Pyramid). I was so worried that we would lose the kids or they would get abducted, and I would’ve worried about getting killed on the monorail, but that was before the crash, so it wasn’t in my mind yet. Somewhere between the race cars and Dumbo, I noticed a family all wearing the same shirts—a loud yellow and orange that stood out in the crowd, and the memories of having been there with my parents, my two brothers, my sister, and my Granny Reddick, all wearing matching outfits my mother had made—a 70’s blue paisley shorts and tank top sets–which looked good with our matching Jesus sandals–came rushing to my mind. I tried to call mom on my cell, to tell her she was a genius for thinking of matching outfits, that people were still doing this, but I was in a dead zone. When we finally got back to Georgia, we stopped by to visit them and I was so excited as I told her about the outfits, my memory. She told me I was nuts, that she’d never made us matching outfits, that my grandmother hadn’t gone to Disney with us, and so on. I knew she had forgotten and felt sorry for her until I pulled the photo album and realized she was right. How could I have so vivid a memory that was so not true? So, who knows what reality is. You’ll forget the rejections and it won’t take Alzheimer’s to do it. Stress will do it. Age will do it. I’ve heard or read (don’t recall now), actually, that age doesn’t do it—that if we are forgetful as we age, we always were that way, but forgot that we were and blame it on age. Whatever, the point is that you will forget! If you’re like me, you’ll forget the rejections and create memories of acceptances you remember but can’t find.
3.Keep on keeping on after the rejections. It’s so cliche to talk about the little train that could, but it’s so true! To **** with the experts, keep it up. My first book, Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, took three years to finally get published. One publisher had it for a year and couldn’t make up his mind, but I was trying to be ethical and not submit while he was considering (You ought to forget that, too, if you can.) And it was the little things that kept me trying. Elaine Fowler Palencia had inspired me to write the first book with a comment: “You should put these stories in a collection.” And others were inspiring to me: Lee Smith, Inman Majors, Janice Daugharty, Sharyn McCrumb, and many, many more. Don’t give up seemed to be the resounding message at events where writers spoke and where I listened. The second book, Lead Me Home, which comes out in February only took a few months to get published. I knew a bit more about who to submit to, how to sell it myself (if I couldn’t get the agent), and it worked.
I know a whole lot less about reviews. I had a few with the first book and I guess there will be some with the second one. Most of them were good. One review had a smart alec comment and made me mad, but the overall review wasn’t bad. Of course, that’s the half-empty, half-full glass. It’s mostly perspective. Sometimes the negative can do you as much good as the positive. You have no further to look than the politicians or actors for proof.
I guess in the end, it’s having done it, the process, that mattered the most to me. I often find myself saying, “I don’t know” when someone asks me a specific question about why I did something the way I did (Actually, it may be that I don’t even remember having written it). It could have been done differently, I suppose, but at the time, it just didn’t work out that way. Each experience has an effect and helps shape us in a different way, direction, and I suppose that’s what the reviews and rejections have done and continue to do for me.