Monday, September 8, 2014

The Spam of Good Intentions

One of the more peevish aspects of being a writer, or any kind of artist, is that you are continuously offered unsolicited advice from people who have very little understanding of what it is you actually do. I realize individuals in other fields experience the same badgering, but it's a little easier for a nurse or a steelworker to tell an unqualified opinionator to shove off.
One of my (least) favorite forms of unsolicited advice, is having someone remind me that all great writers and artists started off as failures.

My question for anyone who dares send me any version of this link (there are a few variations), is how naive do you think I am?

Do you assume I believe my heroes to be perfect in every way? Do you really think my inability to be perfect is the source of the anxiety that is still holding me back? Granted, I'm a people pleaser. But I also understand I cannot please everyone. I'm getting better at this. I'm also a meddling perfectionist, procrastinatorial apologist, etc. I piss and shit and fall asleep at night. I get it, I'm human. Some list you found on Buzzfeed isn't bringing me closer to enlightenment.

This is shitty advice because a lot of artists and writers would have been considered failures for their entire lives until after they died, and only then did their work catch on. It's such a familiar cycle of artistic "success" that it borders on cliche. But I guess it's more my job to be concerned about perpetuating cliches, not yours, Mr. McBusybody. But my point remains; how is that encouraging?

But let's go back to this idea of famous writers receiving rejection letters. Thank you, everyone who forwards me this link, but this is nothing revelatory. All of my peers and colleagues have been rejected. All of my mentors have been rejected. In grad school,  on the very first day, I was introduced to Rejection Wiki. I learned very quickly that rejection from publications, both minor and major, is actually an honor in and of itself. It means someone read your work and maybe even put some thought into it. As writers, that's all we're really ever asking for. So, yeah, I'm not surprised Stephen King was rejected multiple times from multiple publications. I probably won't even receive rejection letters from The New Yorker. I won't receive a letter of acceptance, either. I'll still probably flood a certain New Yorker editor's inbox come Halloween, should my submissions make it past her purportedly aggressive curse word filter, because that's just what we do.

It's not the thoughtful, professional rejections that keep me up at night. It's the rejection from everyone else, and that includes you. When you forward me this link, or any other form of thoughtless, hollow advice, for the umpteenth time, you're essentially rejecting me. You're not listening. When it comes down to it, you only have the best of intentions. In essence, you're telling me to "try harder." I would like to pay this kind of encouragement back to you.

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