Thursday’s Children 3/21/13 – Inspired by Rejection


As most writers know, rejection is a very large–and very important–part of what we do. For me, it’s actually (and I know this is going to sound totally insane) one of my favorite parts. Not because I find it pleasant, (“how do I find thou lacking, let me count the ways….”) but because I’m one of those people who starts to feel bouts of paranoia in the absence of constructive criticism. I find I can’t believe that no one is wandering around out there in the world, talking smack about me or my writing in some forum or another. It’s messed up, and I do realize that. But that deep-seated neurosis is why, when I receive a truly jarring bit of critique, some sick little part of me does a little dance of joy.

Take the other day, for example. I received a very nice bit of feedback in the form of a rejection for a piece I had written. The person doing the rejecting was very complimentary about my writing style and ideas, but they didn’t think my main character was relatable enough.

My first response was something along the lines of:

EhmagerdBecause HEY, feedback is feedback. And if it was all 100% awesome, we’d never grow or learn from our shortcomings.

And WHOA, I was lucky enough to get personalized feedback, and some thoughtful compliments to boot. Not bad for an industry that has a rep for being extremely cloak and dagger about its motivations at times, right?

And WHILE WE’RE AT IT, as far as criticisms went, things could’ve been a LOT worse. (i.e. ‘your writing is terrible,’ or ‘your story idea makes no sense and therefore sucks,’ or ‘kill yourself.’)

But THEN, I started to think…what if that little bit of critique turns out to be the one thing standing in the way of my career? And what if I’m not putting enough dire emphasis on it? What if it’s not subjective, and what if everyone who ever reads my story feels the EXACT SAME way???

At that point, I did what any journalism nerd would do. I looked it up.

Relatable-Def(Disclaimer: I know what this word means. I just wanted to make sure that me and the rest of the world were on the same page.)

And that was when I realized….OH NO.

I’ve never been on the same page as the rest of the world, probably ever. Relatable? I’m not that person. If I wrote the story of my life, from start to finish, with all the little awkward details…very few people would actually GET it. I’m strange. I always have been. My sense of humor takes some getting used to. I use a lot of superannuated words and superfluous adjectives. In high school, I dressed like a 30-year-old correspondant for CNN:


(This is my HS Yearbook Picture. I’m dead serious.)

And finally, the KICKER: up until that very moment, I had honestly, genuinely believed that my MC was relatable as hell. Because she reminded me of me. So now, I’m having a little bit of a paradigm shift. I’m starting to wonder, what makes a character relatable to EVERYONE, and not just a few choice (strange) people? I realize that literature is extremely subjective, and yet I find myself inspired to explore this topic.

So you tell me.

1. How are you inspired by rejection?

2. What do you think “relatable” means? And what makes a character feel relatable to you?


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27 thoughts on “Thursday’s Children 3/21/13 – Inspired by Rejection

  1. You have such an awesome attitude when it comes to taking direction!

    I can kind of relate to the whole being “one of those people who starts to feel bouts of paranoia in the absence of constructive criticism” thing, when someone gives my work a compliment it usually just makes me nervous- I prefer criticism.

    1. As far as handling rejection…well, it’s funny how much of a difference wording makes- when it comes to “criticism”, I’m all smiles, but the word “rejection” shoots me in the gut.

    So, when I receive the standard rejection email from an agent, I’m NOT a happy camper. I go from feeling worthless, to angry, to becoming more determined than ever to write in a way that makes ME happy.

    Yeah, I definitely think your attitude toward rejection is a lot more mature than mine : )

    2. A character who I can relate to doesn’t need to be exactly like me, but they need to make me feel comfortable. How? By showing me what they’re afraid of.

    I think that no matter what our background is, one of the qualities that puts us on the same level as our fellow humans is fear. We’re all afraid of something.

    I don’t even have to share the character’s fear for me to understand and relate to the fact that they are afraid.

    Whew this was a long comment!

    Thanks for your wonderful post, I really enjoyed reading it and def plan to return for the next one!!

    1. Dude. Your yearbook picture is AWESOME. Especially the hair. It’s frothy and magnificent!

  2. Birds of a feather;)

    I have a wall of rejections. I’m serious. I print them out, and then hang them up…especially the ones with GREAT feedback. I call those “the positives”. In every rejection (personalized and generic) I try to have a beginners mind. Find some comfort in the fact that there may a message in every rejection. Still, everything I write is odd. I don’t know if I could write any other way. It’s how I see the world. And how awesome is it that everyone sees the world differently. Eventually, someone will see the good in all the tar-dust.

    1. I love that idea. I wish I had a printer so I could do that. Hmmm…maybe I’ll reinvent them on my wall using calligraphy and black paint.

  3. Interesting post. I suppose sometimes outright rejection (with no sting-reducing compliments) makes me want to prove the rejector wrong. I do feel like Lisa Simpson a lot of the time, waving my hand in the air “Grade me! Grade me!” For me what is/isn’t relatable about a character tends to be motivation and some degree of predictability. It doesn’t matter how weird, quirky, even dislikable he/she may be, if I discover all he wants is love (for example), and his actions/reactions are understandable within that emotional framework, I can relate.

  4. Hi Veronica. I found this really resonated with me because although I do struggle with criticism, even constructive criticism, at the same time I have a burning desire to hear people’s opinion of my work, even if it’s unfavourable. And once I hear people’s opinions I try to take on board what they’ve said and shape my WIP accordingly.

    As for ‘relatable’ to me it means someone who can relate to others well. I like characters that I can empathise with, that I can relate to. A character like Elizabeth Bennet in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is sympathetic; the reader can relate to her because she’s very much a human character. She’s not perfect but it’s her imperfections that make her appealing.

    Great post!

    1. Thanks for commenting!

      I definitely think it’s important to be able to take criticism well and apply it. But it’s equally important to know when to say “thanks, but I really feel strongly about this.” In my experience, finding that middle ground is a constant struggle, but a great learning experience!

      Good luck on your writing endeavors!

  5. I love constructive criticism, and I’m learning what to change and what to leave be. I have the same problem though. 17 yo MC not “relatable”–Terribly shy, quiet, lives in books, few if any friends, family-oriented. That’s me, so I relate. Of course, if I change her too much, she becomes another character, and not the one she’s meant to be. I think we writers have to find the right balance, which is damn hard to do. Great post!!

  6. Rejection — lol. I despise form rejections. They make my skin crawl and don’t help at all. But when you get feedback — even just a line of good and bad, I treat it like gold. It ALWAYS helps.

    There is usually more feedback in the short story realm (from editors), and those are fantastic when they happen. They remind me I’m dealing with human beings!

    If you’re stuck on how to make your MC relatable, remember that relatable doesn’t have to mean specific personality traits or character details. Remember, even a pig (Babe) and a robot (Wall-E) can be relatable. Just think about higher-order needs, wants, and behaviour, and make sure your character shows them in an obvious way. Those are the things people will grasp onto.

  7. I had several “not relatable enough” rejections regarding my MC in the ms that ended up landing me my agent. I have to say that I also received some very lovely feedback that accompanied that assertion and I used it to tweak my MC a bit but ultimately I didn’t want to change who she was. I figured that eventually the right person would relate to her, and luckily, it worked out! March to the beat of your own drummer, I say! And let’s face it, Dexter is not “relatable” (at least I hope not) but people love him anyway.

  8. My experience with the not relatable comment is that sometimes (maybe even often) it is a form reject for ‘not something I can relate to’. I had one of my long time CPs bash the ms which got me an agent. She’s a teacher and said her students wouldn’t be able to relate to my mc at all. Another CP who also is a teacher in a different part of the country said the opposite. I don’t like all MCs in published books–particularly some well known teen classics. What I liked as a teen is different than what I love now. If a ton of agents say the same thing, then as some Cps. But for now just take the complement of a personal rejection and move on.

    I’m the same about critiques. I love the challenge of feedback, though a nice complement is good as well.

  9. Compliments are nice but real critiques (which are harder to get surprisingly) are what will improve my writing. I can relate to your post. I take rejection as a challenge to get better.

  10. It’s a fine line to walk between trusting your gut and trusting the criticism. I’ve learned a ton from the criticism I’ve received on manuscripts, but there have a few times where I felt like I needed to stand my ground. But even then, I almost always second guess myself – lol.

  11. Loved this post & tried to comment earlier but don’t see it so if my comment accidentally shows up twice I’m sorry about that lol!

    I’m with you on the whole experiencing “bouts of paranoia in the absence of constructive criticism” thing. Whereas compliments make me nervous, criticism makes me happy because it gives me something to work on.

    But while I love criticism, rejection is a different story for me.
    Upon receipt of the typical form email notice of rejection from a literary agent, I usually first feel 1) utterly worthless 2) angry 3) develop an odd, “I don’t care what anyone thinks” attitude which usually lasts for about fifteen minutes.

    So, I think that the way you handle rejection is much more mature and appropriate lol : )

    As far as relatable characters go- you know…I think there’s something to be said about the fact that no matter who we are, we’re all AFRAID of something.

    When I’m reading a good book and the writer exposes the main character’s fear – what they’re deeply afraid of- it seems to put the character, no matter what their background/culture, on my level.

    Thank you for this wonderful post and the thought-provoking questions. I look forward to reading your work!!

    1. Sorry, it looks like you got into the spam folder for some reason. It shouldn’t happen again, though.

  12. Thanks so much for all the replies! I love hearing how everyone else “deals” with this crazy thing we do! And also, it’s important to remember that there are a million and one opinions out there, and the order of importance is as follows:

    1. YOU
    2. Your agent/editor
    3. Your readers

    Everything else is just there to help you check yourself, and make sure that you’re still square with #1.

  13. I must admit I find the relateable comment hard – although found John’s comment really helpful. But it sounds like you have a great perspective on criticism and how to approach your own work. I wish you great success, sprinkled with helpful criticism!

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