Be Indomitable

Master Jeong taught that the Tae Kwon Do spirit (probably not to be confused with the spirit that moves us) is an indomitable spirit.

Sometimes when your world has crashed, it’s wise to tell yourself, “I have an indomitable spirit.” Say it enough, you may believe it. Believe it, and it may come true.

I used to keep a file of rejection letters, thinking once they stopped coming, I would use the collection to wallpaper a room. That was before I realized they may never stop coming. I got one this morning.

Here’s a grim fact of life. If you’re not getting rejected by somebody for something, you’ve probably stopped dreaming, which may be the most dangerous thing an artist can do.

Rejections may come from friends. Suppose you spend a year writing a novel, you give a copy to a compadre, and learn a few weeks later that he has not only put off opening your book, but during that time he’s bought and read two Dean Koontz thrillers. No matter what excuse he gives, your feelings get hurt.

In writers’ groups, we judge the worth of our stories by every remark, sigh, modulation of voice and facial expression. If our feelings don’t get hurt even a little, either we have achieved something like nirvana or become experts at the dubious skill of turning hurt to anger, which sooner or later will either kill us or send our spirits into exile.

Agents and editors sometimes reject us in brutal ways. I once submitted a baseball novel and after about four months received a note, “Sorry you struck out with us.” Either this prominent editor hadn’t gleaned that people who devote well over a year to a project don’t consider their work a joke, or she had a mean streak the size of and a heart the temperature of Siberia.

Suppose that after ten years of dedicated work you publish your first novel and feel you deserve at least a modicum of respect. You’ve gotten fine reviews. Then you pick up another review and think it must’ve been written by somebody who didn’t read more than five pages of your novel and, moreover, mistook you for the guy who stole his wife.

Anyone who has suffered such a review, or had a nightmare about receiving one, should read Tobias Woolf’s short story, “A Bullet in the Brain,” in which a book reviewer who gets taken hostage by bank robbers criticizes his captors until the joyous ending, which I won’t give away any more of than I already have.

In case I haven’t made my point, it’s this: as a writer, you’re going to get rejected. So you’d better protect yourself by learning how to cope with rejection.

Friedrich Nietzsche gave the simple answer to this problem. He wrote, “Creators are hard.”

Okay, but the best creators are also soft. They’re vulnerable, open to a deep and wide range of emotion. They’re pliable, willing to ditch their most cherished preconceptions for new truths and inspirations.

So let’s define “hard” as “resilient” rather than as “solid” or “dense”. Let’s be willing to stretch ourselves even to the breaking point by mustering confidence in our ability to repair our hearts or by trusting that God will repair us.

A few gimmicks have helped me recover from rejection. The simplest is realizing that no one person can determine how other readers will react. Midheaven, my first novel, went to three editors. The first reported that he liked the story but not the narrator. The second liked the narrator but not the story. The third liked both and bought the book.

Still, many times I have needed to wallow in self-doubt and agony until I remembered that critical success may not be as important as the health of my family and friends.

Many times I’ve survived rejection by already having in mind a next book and being so excited about it I can convince myself no sane person could reject it. In this state of mind, I remember my writer friend Don Purviance asking, “Are you in it for the long haul, or aren’t you?”