Writers face a lot of rejection. When being turned down by literary journals and literary agents and magazines and book publishers, my grad school friends and I would console ourselves by saying, “at least we’re not trying to make it as models.”
Seriously. Can you imagine rejection letters that point out unshapely thighs or outsized nostrils? The horror! Give me a slow plot or an unreliable narrator any day. We may have poured our hearts onto the page, but somehow our pass letters never felt as personal as well, attacks on our persons. And if we wanted to drown our sorrows in wine, we didn't have to agonize over the calories.
A couple of years ago, I met a successful model who’d spent more than a decade working consistently in New York. I got to ask her all about the agony of rejection we writers had been imagining. It was every bit as awful as a B movie. She’d go on audition after audition and line up with other women who looked just like her, which might be “rocker chick” one day and “sexy professional” the next. She didn’t eat, she dyed her hair and styled it every which way she could. She went for glam, she went for waif, she tried to make herself look just like whoever was “in” at the time. And yet she wasn’t booking the shoots. She was too skinny, too fat, too blonde, too you name it.
She threw up her hands and admitted defeat. Expecting to move home, she decided to spend some time enjoying New York and being herself. She went back to her own look – a bit more natural and beachy than the girls who were booking. She loved the city, so before packing up she decided, “what the hell? Why not stick with it just a little longer?" To her surprise, shortly after she stopped trying to look like what the market wanted, she started getting assignments. There were still rejections, but they got fewer and farther between with every season of experience, until she gradually built a solid career for herself.
You’re probably calling bullshit right now. I know it sounds like some sugary myth I’m using to make you feel good, the kind of made-up case study you’d find in a success book. The skeptic in me might have thought that too as she told me her story, except that I’ve heard so many similar experiences. As a freelance writer, I have profiled successful people in just about any field you can imagine – fashion designers, movie producers, and even Elvis impersonators. Almost invariably, they say the moment they went from struggling to flourishing was when they threw out expectations and just gave the world their true selves.
The funny thing is, that was exactly how I went from rejected manuscript to published novel. When it seemed that no big publisher was going to buy my book, my agent and I had very different ideas on how to proceed. She thought I should rewrite it in a way that I hated. In fact, her suggestions felt so off-base that all I could do was cry. I was so incensed that I didn’t care if I pissed her off, and I was ready to walk away from her and the book.
For the first time in a long time, I wrote for myself, not for my grad school instructors, not for publishers, not for my agent. I wrote the book I wanted to write, whether it was marketable or not. To my surprise, my agent was thrilled I’d had such an emotional response and had found my own vision. When I'd finished the revision, not only did she love it, she sold it.
There is a moral to this story, kids. Be yourself. You are enough. Your story is worthy of being told. And as you face rejection, don’t forget – at least you’re not a model.
p.s. If you are a model, damn, you are a survivor and I applaud you.