Sunday, July 31, 2005

Validation! I crave validation!

Writing is a psychologically dangerous profession. We writers tend to be insecure anyway, which is why we choose such an isolated activity. But we open ourselves up to criticism and rejection whenever we let other people read our stuff. We send it out to be evaluated, judged, and deemed “suitable for publication” by people who believe they’re qualified to do so. These people are called editors.

We writers have more. . . colorful names for them.

The problem comes because writers take rejection personally. It’s not just that our work wasn’t good enough or right for that publication. It’s that there’s something wrong with us as people. Our souls are stained. We’ve got some fundamental flaw in our psyches that the editors recognize but we don’t. And while we never admit it, this is what we believe deep down in the dark places we never talk about, but end up making it onto paper. Or our blogs.

“Don’t take it personally,” other writers tell us "Just resubmit it somewhere else." Writers like Stephen King and his multi-million dollar empire. I'll stop taking it personally, Stephen, as soon as you funnel your next book advance my way. Until then, I’ll crumple up my rejection letters, gnash my teeth, and have my revenge fantasies against these nay-sayers of my life’s work.

I remember two editors in particular. One was an editor of a publication who decided he didn’t want to be bothered with dealing with the dirty rabble of writers who dared to distract him from putting out a magazine. So he had a rejection stamp made, and he stamped it on everyone’s submission and sent it back. Because he stamped “Does not meet our needs” on my humor submission.

My fellow humor writers said I should get my own stamp that says “Doesn’t know shit” and stamp it on his rejection and send it back to him. I didn’t, but I did take some satisfaction when his magazine folded. Apparently his magazine didn't meet his readers' needs.

Another one was a guy who had his own website. He listed all the humor writers on the web. I had been writing for two years, had my own website for about six months, and was very excited to find that I made his list. A month later, I discovered I wasn’t on it anymore. I emailed him and asked why. “You’re not funny,” he responded.

Jerk. I mean, it’s one thing to say “I don’t like it.” It’s another thing to speak in the realm of universal truths and say “YOU are NOT funny.” A devastating blow to someone who calls himself a humor writer. But I never even considered quitting. I just focused on my column, worked at it, and made it better.

I got funnier and funnier, and have been doing this for over 10 years now. My column appears every week, both in print and online, and is read by over 10,000 people. Meanwhile, this guy’s website -- a list of funny people, mind you. Not his own work, just a list of other people -- went under less than a year later. Now who’s funny? The guy who creates it and is still published 10 years later? Or the guy who just stood on the sidelines and watched other people do it?

Those who can write, do. Those who can’t, edit. Those who can’t edit make stupid lists about people they wish they could be.

Not that I’m bitter. I just have an overdeveloped sense of schadenfreude about people who didn’t believe in me.

I’ve been thinking about these two editors a lot as I’ve been working on my first book. It’s a collection of Guy columns, and I’m very optimistic about it. I’m nervous about sending it out, well, because I’m a writer, and we’re very insecure about that sort of thing. But I’m maintaining a positive mental attitude about its publication.

And I’ll meet these two guys again. It will be at the launch party of my book, or at one of my book signings around the country. They’ll introduce themselves, and say “Hey, do you remember me? I’m the guy who. . .” and they’ll remind me of their story, and how they didn’t believe in me, but wow look at how far you’ve come I’m glad you’re so successful.

I’ll thank them and give them a copy of my book to show there’s no hard feelings. They’ll get a picture taken with me and say they’re looking forward to reading my book.

And then I’ll hand them my ticket and a couple bucks and they’ll retrieve my car from valet parking for me.

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