By Melanie Peffer
Since my first book for the trade audience (the general book-reading audience available through regular book dealers), Biology Everywhere, many people have asked me questions about writing a book. They wanted to know about everything from my writing process to navigating self-publishing to my motivations to write in the first place.
At some point in these conversations, the person would tell me an idea they have for a book, then follow it up with BUT and why they couldn’t write a book.
All authors face barriers to writing and publishing. The most common fallback is the impossibility of anything other than what is encapsulated by the phrase BUT. The problem with the use of but is it negates people’s ideas and passions. Accepting failure before even starting focuses on the negative.
Rejection is ubiquitous and we need to think big despite that.
When I was a teen, I was terrified of rejection. That terror steadily grew into my early college years. I struggled to divorce imperfection at the task at hand from the personal attribute of being a washout. Turns out I’m not the only one who has hit that stumbling block either – part of success is figuring out how to stop taking failure personally.
I realize now that failing and failing again is the only way to succeed. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could wallpaper my entire house with rejection letters.
I changed my mindset concerning failure when mentors began sharing their failures. To hear people I deeply respect talking about the myriad of times they went belly up opened my eyes to a larger truth.
I had a very memorable conversation with a well-known and respected person in my field. He told me to identify and embrace my most significant rejections. He told me about a rejection letter he had saved from a well-known Fortune 500 company. He held on to it not because he was bitter but because he was proud to come in second. He said that getting interviewed and later rejected by this company was an accomplishment, even if they didn’t offer him the job.
Failure is a prerequisite to success. In fact, if we look a little closely at highly successful creative endeavors, we see repeated failures and piles of rejection letters.
NBC rejected the pilot of Star Trek. If it hadn’t been for Lucille Ball’s championing the show, we wouldn’t have over a dozen Star Trek movies and a dozen different TV series.
Several authors, now household names, were rejected many times before they were finally published. J.K. Rowling, Dr. Seuss, Stephen King (Carrie was rejected 30 times), and J.R.R. Tolkien. Can you imagine life without Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings? Or a childhood without The Cat in the Hat? Some of our lives would be radically different without these stories to help shape us.
I mentioned that not taking failure personally is vital for succeeding. The other key is letting your dreams sing louder than the inevitable rejections.
The first rule of good improvisation is “Thou shalt Yes AND.”
I have big dreams and great ideas, and I’m aware of the challenges ahead of me. Whether those challenges be access to resources, childcare, or perfectionism, we all face difficulties writing.
I encourage you to believe in your dreams and let your goals be stronger than rejections or failures. Either from nay-sayers or from yourself.
We can often be our own worst enemy, especially when sharing our dreams and ideas with the world. Too often, people reject themselves without even trying. They’re ready to give up the race without even getting out of the gate. Failure happens not because things didn’t work out as planned but because we self-sabotage in the earliest creative stages.
As we close out 2021 and enter a new year, what are your dreams? What kind of work do you want to bring to the world? Are you holding yourself back? What do you need to get your next great idea to the world?
Come tell me about it on Twitter @Melanie_Peffer.