What I Learned About Being a Writer in 2014 - Tip #2

I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over these ten days, I’m sharing some of my tips. Here is Tip #2.

Never take rejection personally (and learn how to actually do that)

This is sort of an addendum to the previous rule, but important enough to get its own slot. Part of learning how to play the game is understanding that the rules have nothing to do with you, that the people who make those rules (editors) have nothing against you, and that those rules are just intended to make their lives easier. That’s why you should approach every pitch you write from that perspective too. How do those alien creatures with full-time jobs get those full-time jobs, you ask? They find the person who is looking to fill a position and present themselves as absolutely indispensible to that person; the only credible fit for that position. If you want to get the attention of an editor who has never heard of you before, the best thing to realize and accept is that that editor is just a person, and probably a stressed out, overworked one at that. Don’t expect a response, especially if it’s a rejection; be kind, patient, and quick to thank if a personal rejection comes.

Back in mid-November, just after I’d flown to New York for Thanksgiving but before Thanksgiving week, I had an idea I’d been kicking around in my head for a few days. Thanksgiving preparations were in full swing, and diatribes against the unholy matrimony of retail and holiday known as “Black Friday” were already being penned. I thought I could add to the conversation by writing something about Black Friday from the perspective of an American living in Germany—a country with a very different retail environment and an almost puritanical devotion to closing shops and businesses on holidays. I reached out to a Facebook friend of mine who was an editor at a high-profile New York publication, and asked if she might be interested in the story. She forwarded it to her boss, who said he was intrigued but confused by what I was trying to say, and she asked me to call her. After a friendly and helpful conversation during which she gave me some direction, encouraged me to write the piece on spec, and told me she would do her best to get it in before Thanksgiving day (it was Tuesday by this point), I dove in. One long night of writing and two edits later, the piece was in the system and ready for approval. The day after Thanksgiving she forwarded me her boss’s apology that he had never gotten the chance to approve the article so it couldn’t go up in time.

In the world of “Giulia, pre-2014,” I would have exploded with anger, mostly at myself, for having wasted time on writing the piece only to see it rejected, for having waited to pitch until time was that tight, for many other things my brain would have cooked up in the vengeful stew that would probably be boiling in there. In this case, I thanked her kindly for all her work trying to get the piece published in time, told her it was no big deal, and immediately put it back in a file with a note to start pitching it again in early October 2015.

The moral of the story? Rage against the editorial machine will blind you to future possibilities. Staying calm and thankful for the learning experience you’ve had keeps your mind and vision clear, and allows you to see solutions instead of beating yourself up about your problems.