On being a great loser
For starters, never begin a game of Risk. No good can come of it. Fun, fun, fun, rising blood pressure, glee, despair, fury, philosophical levels of doubt about your value and place in the universe because if you were worth anything you’d surely roll something above a two!
I’ve never been great at losing. Some people are cool, calm, untouchable. Not me. When it’s board games, I’m getting better. Sometimes I still want to cry. I remember, one time, my husband and I once spent two days straight playing chess and late on the second day I won a game. I might have won two, total. It was long ago, before we had kids, and there was this great vibe about it: I’d decided I was allowed to lose, to begin with, at least, because I’d never really played before. This was learning to play chess and we kept playing until I had a fighting chance.
Losing without a fighting chance is the losing that sucks. So Risk is out because it’s a little tact and a lot of luck. Games that are a lot of luck drive me crazy. It doesn’t help that my husband is insanely lucky. No lottery winnings as yet but seriously, if a game is luck-reliant, he’s in. Lucky Luuk, we call him.
Okay, it’s just me who calls him that.
I’m much better than I used to be at losing at board games, anyway. The trick is playing lots and losing lots, I suppose. And winning often enough to not feel totally useless helps.
But boardgames are the baby pool, aren’t they. Stakes are low. Hours of your life (more or less) wasted unless you CONQUER, but no real stakes. No money, career, livelihood, DREAM on the line.
On the other hand, when I’m talking about my writing… ouch.
I have been sending out a heap of writing submissions: query letters to lit agents, to publishers, manuscripts, partials, short stories and flash fiction, poetry too, for competitions and journals. I’ve been doing this for years now, actually, and most of that time it was silence or rejection. Polite, impersonal form rejection.
But every now and then I’d get feedback. Notes on my work, not general niceties, but constructive criticism. It was a good sign. My work was worth the time and energy of saying something about it: that something being the reason it wasn’t right for whatever I’d submitted it for.
A step in the right direction, however painful.
I figured out that I wanted to get those notes before sending it out to be rejected. I needed criticism during the writing process, or rather, during the rewriting process (but that is part of the writing process, really.)
I had this AMAZING writer’s group in Paris. They gave brilliant notes. They didn’t hold back and yet none of it was cruel. It wasn’t me and my work versus the critique group; it was me and the critique group versus my work. It wasn’t personal, though my writing often was and is.
I lap up criticism. But once upon a time, it was personal, even if it came from a lovely, warm, collaborative place. I didn’t know how to separate myself and my worth, from the work and its worth.
I don’t lap up rejection, of course not, but I’m pretty good at taking the hit and getting up and getting on with more submissions or more rewrites or something else entirely.
But once upon a time it was THE END OF THE WORLD. My one almost-novel wasn’t good enough (and, in truth, it was not, and thank you lucky stars it didn’t go anywhere because embarrassing) and therefore I was not good enough. Rejecting that one manuscript was rejecting my entire body of work.
No one gets to do that anymore. No one sees my entire body of work. It’s more than a million words now and oy vey, right? That’s a lot of words.
When I get a rejection now, it’s one of MANY, rejecting one of MANY stories, poems, novels… Compared to that baby writer, a decade ago, a rejection now is a blip on the radar. It hurts, but it doesn’t take me out. I still write that day. I don’t chuck the lot. I don’t even chuck that story.
I’m sure different people have different processes and experiences, but for me it’s like learning patience: the only way to do it is to wait. For ages. It sucks. But you can’t learn to be patient without being impatient for, oh, hours.
Learning how to take rejection is the same: take lots of it, one way or the other, and you’ll get better. Which, I know, and I’m sorry, is NOT what anyone wants to hear, unless they’re well into years of getting rejection, and there’s the hope that it’ll start to pay off.
And one day, it won’t be rejection. It’ll be constructive criticism.
And then it might well be a few more rejections. Or years.
And one day it will be a yes.