KJ Howe hosting Bryan E. Robinson
I’d like to welcome talented author and ace psychologist Bryan E. Robinson to Rogue Women Writers. Bryan joins us with some sage advice on how to keep writing in challenging times. His unflagging enthusiasm is just the elixir you need if you’re feeling low….
by Bryan E. Robinson
The nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing. —Stephen King
When you started writing on a regular basis, did you think it would answer all your prayers for fame and wealth, and you’d live happily ever after? Did you dream your book would appear on bookstore shelves beside Lee Child, James Patterson, or Heather Graham? That it would hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list and garner the Edgar, the Barry, the Agatha, and Thriller Awards? That Steven Spielberg would beat down your door to sign you for the screenplay?
Were you perplexed to discover that nightmares come with the dreams? Did an agent’s dismissal, publisher rejection, blistering reviews, no-shows at bookstore signings, deadline pressures, zero awards, or agonizing writer’s block besiege you? Did you have trouble locating your book on the shelves at Barnes and Noble? Did you make a little money but not enough to pay off the mortgage? Did you find that what few bucks you earned went toward paying a publicist? Are you still waiting for Hollywood to call?
After meteoric challenges, are you still in the writing game?
Of course, you are, so am I. We’re rogue writers. Not writing isn’t an option. We’re out of the ordinary. We behave in unexpected, unorthodox ways. We’re the ones who crash the glass ceilings and move things forward. People learn they can’t fuck with us. We don’t allow defeat to take us down. We use rejection and disappointment as fuel for our fierce determination, and we persevere through literary storms—albeit bruised, bereft, and beleaguered.
Rogue writers have a different way of looking at rejection. We consider it an honor to be in such good company—members of an exclusive club of great authors. While writing my new inspiration book for aspiring scribes (The Writer’s Daily Bounce: Meditations for Writing Resilience 365 Days a Year), I discovered that practically every successful writer from Stephen King to the Beatles to J.K. Rowling—whose Harry Potter series was rejected by twelve publishing houses—has travelled the same road we’re on hundreds of times. Steve Berry had 85 rejections over twelve years of trying before hitting it big. Janet Evanovich said she received rejection letters for ten years, one written on a napkin written in crayon. She stored all of her rejection letters in a box and when it was finally full, she took it to the curb and set it on fire. James Lee Burke said he saved all of his rejection slips because he planned someday to autograph them and auction them off. Sylvia Plath said, “I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” And Judith Guest said, “Some of our worst rejections can help make us better writers.”
No one can take anything from us rogue writers unless we consent. Not our writing talents, our self-respect, our persistence. Nothing. Nada. When the rejection letters arrive—and they will—we don’t have to let defeat turn us into a wreck hauled off to the scrap heap. We are creators of our writing, not victims of it. Instead of letting rejection letters prescribe our course, we prescribe theirs: haul them to the scrap heap, make a scrapbook, wallpaper a room, put them on our websites, read them at book signings, have a contest in our writing groups, use them for wrapping paper, or set them on fire.
You get where I’m going? Are you feeling empowered yet?
A rogue writer—male or female—is a force to be reckoned with. Rejection is not final, nor fatal for us. It strengthens us, makes us more resilient, gives us the stamina to rise up and overcome writing roadblocks. Let’s travel the road of rejection with fierce determination, knowing we’re headed in the right direction. Let’s substitute our nails with a spike, never give up, and keep on writing.
In keeping with the theme this week of vacations that changed your life, every vacation I’ve had out of the country has changed me in one way or another. I have traveled all over the world to every continent except for the Arctic and Antarctica. I think it was being in Varanasi, India (also known as The City of the Dead where many come to die) that had the biggest impact. In a boat on the Ganges watching the priests waving torches of fire in the pitch blackness during Arti (the Hindu Ceremony of Light) and watching the funeral pyres burning on the banks of the river is emblazoned in my brain. It was the Tao of breathtaking beauty and sobering hard-cold reality. But it’s the beauty I take away the most.
BRYAN E. ROBINSON is consulting editor for International Thriller Writers’ online magazine, The Big Thrill, and past coordinator of their Debut Author Forum. After weathering his share of rejections, Bryan authored 35 nonfiction books that were translated into thirteen languages and two mysteries. His debut novel, Limestone Gumption, was a multi-award winner for best psychological suspense. His latest books are The Writer’s Daily Bounce: Meditations for Writing Resilience 365 Days a Year (Llewellyn Worldwide, forthcoming), and the thriller, Bloody Bones (forthcoming). He maintains a private psychotherapy practice in Asheville, NC and resides in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his spouse, four dogs, and occasional bears at night. He is currently working on his third mystery/thriller, Michael Row the BODY Ashore and a memoir, Crazy Papers.
Byron — welcome to our website and thank you so much for sharing your initial "rejection spike" experiences. I certainly can identify with your story since I still have a file of rejection letters collected from all sorts of agents when I wrote my first two novels….which, by the way, never saw the light of day and are still under the bed. After that I decided to really get serious: read books on structuring novels, creating believable heroes and heroines, attend conferences (such as Thrillerfest) and hunker down to write a thriller…which finally was published (along with several others) by a major house. You were so right to say that for us "writing is not an option." I'd call it a compulsion and yet it is a "business" — and you are great to point out the pitfalls but also encourage aspiring writers to hang in there and keep working at it. By the way, loved that photo of you and your dog….is that a Labradoodle perhaps? (I have one). Again, thanks for writing here.
Thanks for stopping by, Karna. I agree with you both about writing being a compulsion. The stories just keep coming…and I do enjoy having them come to life on paper. Really proud of your commitment to the process. It's a journey!
The dog with me in the photo (Bryan Robinson) is Hudson. He's my boy and is a GoldenDoodle, the love of my life! Well, one of them!
So far behind on reading the blog, but I loved your contribution, Bryan. I have always loved stories about rejection letters and bad reviews, especially when told by writers who were eventually successful. I remember Tony Hillerman telling me once that he received a rejection from an editor who said, and I paraphrase: This isn't a bad book if you would just get rid of all that Indian stuff. I know J.K. Rowling was turned down numerous times. And, Mary Higgins Clark told me her first rejection on Where Are the Children was: Your writing is light, trite and slight. The good news in all of this is we are all published, all on the rise and one day we too can sign our rejections and auction them off! Thanks for sharing your experiences.