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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Fear, Rejection, & Writer's Block: Guest Post by Gene Perret

Today we're thrilled to welcome Gene Perret, a legendary writing authority -- he's won three Emmys! Gene was the head writer for the Bob Hope and Carol Burnett shows, and was also responsible for episodes of well-know sitcoms like Three's Company and Welcome Back Kotter.

More than most, Gene appreciates how important it is for a writer to be able to handle fear, rejection, and writer's block, and over time he's developed a system for starting and finishing great projects. Now he's sharing that system with you in a new book: WRITE YOUR BOOK NOW! A Proven System to Start and FINISH the Book You've Always Wanted to Write.

I have to tell you -- I'm pretty excited about this book. Even though I was lucky enough to see an electronic ARC, I rushed over to Amazon to order a hard copy for my library. As you'll see below, Gene is both upbeat and practical as a coach -- you'll want a copy, too!

Shakespeare once wrote, “Doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” It’s one of the best definitions I’ve ever read for the phenomenon we call “writer’s block.” Fear, or doubt as Shakespeare put it, generates writer’s block. We fear that we won’t be able to write what we want to write as well as we want to write it. We fear that even if we do write it, no worthwhile agent or publisher would be interested in it. We fret that even if we did sell and publish our work, none of the readers would like it. Basically, we allow ourselves to be creatively paralyzed by a fear of rejection. We lose “the good we might win by fearing to attempt.”

Writers must realize that rejection is as much a part of writing as the space bar on your keyboard. To be productive we must accept, rather than fear rejection. Certainly a negative response is usually not pleasant, but neither is it catastrophic. It simply is.

One of my writing colleagues claimed that we writers were the only people so self-involved that we named an affliction after ourselves – writer’s block. He said, “Imagine that you’re taking a cross country trip. You fight the crowds and the security inconveniences at the airport. You sit in a cramped airline seat for four or five hours, you arrive at your destination, struggle to get your luggage from the conveyor belt, haul it outside, hail a cab, load the luggage into the vehicle, sit in the back seat, and say to the driver, ‘Take me to the Hilton.’ The driver then turns to you and says, ‘Gee, I’m sorry, Pal, but I’ve got cab-drivers block.’ You’d clobber him with your briefcase.”

There’s no such thing as cab-driver’s block, or plumber’s block, or librarian’s block. There’s only writer’s block because we’re the ones who sometimes begin our task afraid that it will be rejected.

Notice that most of the apprehensions we have concern events in the future. When the manuscript is completed it may not be as superb as we would prefer. Publishers may not want it. Readers may not like it. Why are we deciding now whether the book that is not even written has been written well or poorly? Why are we making management decisions for publishers about a manuscript that they don’t have so they can’t decide about? Why are we assuming what our readers will like before they have anything to read? Forget those fears-to-come. Write your manuscript now and deal with probably mythical roadblocks if and when they occur.

The word “rejection” does have a decidedly negative connotation. That “Thank you, but no thank you” letter or e-mail is unpleasant. It’s disappointing. It’s demoralizing. It’s depressing. It’s all of those and more. At least in our minds and emotions, it is. However, let’s analyze some of the myths about rejection and perhaps diminish the power of its sting.

First, you’ll always have to deal with it. That may not sound very encouraging, but if you as a writer are prepared for a percentage of refusals, they won’t come as a shock. If you’re ready for them they won’t be nearly as unpleasant, disappointing, demoralizing, depressing, or whatever.

Second, turn-downs are not necessarily a condemnation of your writing, your talent, or your potential. As a television producer I once had to audition performers for a single role in a single episode of our sitcom. Agents sent in 20 actors. The math is fairly obvious – one girl would get the role, 19 would not. That doesn’t mean that 19 of the actors were incompetent. It simply indicated that one performer would be hired and 19 would not. In fact, our staff debated for several hours over which performer to hire – many were that good.

There are countless reasons why publishers may refuse your submission. Their schedule is full, their budget is exhausted, they have a similar book in the works, your idea may conflict with the publisher’s established authors, it may be wrong for this specific publisher, publisher may not agree with your concept, they may feel their company is not suited to handle this type of book, or they may just hate the book. Most of those reasons (except for that last one) have nothing to do with your work, or your writing ability.

Third, a rejection is not personal. As they said frequently in “The Godfather,” it’s strictly business.

Fourth, a rejection can often turn into a blessing. Refer back to the case I cited above with the 20 performers all vying for one job. The following year, I produced another sitcom and needed a performer to appear regularly on the show. One of the “rejectees” was hired. Rather than getting a paycheck for one show, she received a salary for several years on the new show.

It can work that way for writers, too. One publisher rejected a proposal of mine, but suggested another book that he would like me to write. I had already written this book but had abandoned it because it had been rejected by several publishers. Now I got a sale through a rejection. Not only did I sell the book, but I didn’t even have to write it. It was already written. Is that not a blessing?

Fifth, no rejection can stop you from producing new writing, and you shouldn’t allow it to. Give yourself a few hours or even days of self-pity (and maybe even calling certain publishers or editors nasty names), but then get back to the keyboard and turn out more solid writing.

I liked the positive way that one writer handled rejection. At a party I overheard him discussing the negotiations for a book of his. He said, “We’re still working things out. I’m demanding a $200,000 advance, and the publisher is refusing to read my manuscript.”

That’s the positive approach we all should adopt.

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Thanks again to Gene for his wonderful advice!  If you'd like to check out the next leg of Gene's blog tour, he'll be appearing on Susan Perry's Psychology Today blog Creating in Flow tomorrow!


REG said...

Great advice that I need to follow right now. Thanks.

Mart Ramirez said...

Awesome post. Thank you so VERY much!

Melanie said...

Great post and great advice. Thanks so much Gene for your honest insight. It's always encouraging when writers who have succeeded in this business, don't forget the difficulties it took to get there and can empathize with those of us who are there.

Gene Perret said...


Glad the article helped. Hang in there.

Martha Ramirez...

Thanks for your comments. We writers have to support and encourage one another.


I'm glad you found the article helpful. In my experience, writers have always been helpful with other writers. We need one another.

Gene Perret