Validation! I Crave Validation!

Erik is out of the office this week, taking a long road trip, so we're reprinting a column from 2005, with a few updates.

Writing is a psychologically dangerous profession. We writers are 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 sit in judgment of us.

These people are called editors. We writers have more colorful names for them.

The problem is we take rejection personally. It's not just that our work wasn't good enough or the right fit for that publication. Like 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. This is what we believe deep down in the dark places we never talk about with our loved ones, but share it with each other, sobbing over beer at writers conferences.

"Don't take it personally," other writers, like Stephen King and his multi-million dollar empire, tell us. "Just resubmit it somewhere else."

Tell you what, Stephen, I'll stop taking it personally as soon as you funnel your next book advance my way. Until then, I'll shred my rejection letters, put them at the bottom of the hamster cage, and dream about payback fantasies against these mouth breathers.

I remember, with particular venom, two editors in particular. One was an editor of a publication who decided he didn't want to be bothered with the dirty rabble of writers who distracted him from putting out a magazine. So he had a rejection rubber stamp made, and he stamped it on everyone's submission and sent it back.

I know this, because the little troll rubber stamped "Does not meet our needs" on one of my pieces. No note, no form letter with my name hand written in, no feedback of any kind. Just a rubber stamp on my submission letter.

Other writers told me to get my own stamp that said "Doesn't know squat" (only a better word than "squat"), stamp it on his rejection, and send it back to him. I didn't, but I did take a lot of satisfaction when his magazine folded a couple years later.

Apparently his magazine didn't meet its readers' needs.

Then there was the guy who ran his own website back in the mid '90s and listed all the humor writers he could find on the web. I had been writing for about a year, had my own website, and was very excited to find that I made the list. A month later, I wasn't on it anymore, so I emailed him and asked why.

"You're not that funny," he responded.

Jerk. I mean, it's one thing to say "I don't like it." But it's a completely different thing to make a universal statement like "YOU are NOT funny." It's a devastating blow to anyone, but especially to an insecure writer. But I never even considered quitting. I just focused on my writing, worked at it, and made it better.

And over the years, I've gotten funnier. My column appears in print and online, and is read by over 10,000 people each week. Meanwhile, this guy's website — a LIST of funny people, mind you, not his own work — went under less than a year later. Now who's the funny one? The guy who creates the humor and is still published 24 years later? Or the guy who just stood on the sidelines and watched other people do it?

There's an old saying that goes: "Those who can write, do. Those who can't, edit. Those who can't edit make lists of 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 when I was starting out.

I've been thinking about these two editors a lot as I've published my first novel.I'm nervous about whether people will like it because I'm a writer, and it's what we do. It's all we do. But I'm keeping a positive mental attitude about it all.

And I'll meet these two guys again. It will be at one of my many 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 we didn't believe in you 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.

Then I'll hand them my ticket, slip them a couple bucks, and have them retrieve my car from valet parking.

Photo credit: Amarpreet25 (, Creative Commons o)

My new humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, is finished and available on Amazon. You can get the Kindle version here or the paperback version here.