My 5-step program for dealing with rejection

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

So both of those opportunities I submitted to a couple of weeks ago? They both rejected me.

Not the first time anyone has rejected me, of course. And if I stay in the game, it definitely won’t be my last.

But these submissions were different.

I’ve never felt as good about any of my work as I did about these. I felt they really represented my voice and my abilities. For one of these opportunities,  I thought I was a shoo-in. For the other, I was less confident but I was sure that my submission was very strong.

It really does a number on your self-esteem when you feel good about something for the first time and it still tanks.

For a while, I drowned myself in Prince William’s wedding cake, namely chocolate biscuit cake. Because you know, chocolate. And biscuit (cookies to you Yankees). And cake.

But you know you’re a writer when the rejections are just fuel to the fire. They made me angry. They made me sad. They made me contemplative. They lit a fire in my belly. Ultimately, they made me recommit to my purpose – to be a writer, regardless of who is confronted by my story.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have to lick my wounds a little bit. Here’s a really great process I want to record for posterity. Who is currently wriggling on my lap, paying not as much attention as I’d like to his alphabet video.

  1. Comfort

Like I said, chocolate. Or any comfort of your choice. Though overindulgence is perhaps inadvisable. We’re trying to rebuild here, not bog down.

2. Recovery for the writing spirit

I was feeling pretty battered. I didn’t have faith in writing anymore. Or my ability to tell a good idea from a bad one.

My chest felt full, if you know what I mean. So many eddying thoughts. It made sense to provide an outlet for them. So I returned to morning pages. 

I confess I did these religiously for months many years ago. I thought they were a chore.

But at this particular time for a few days, they were heavenly.

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I gave myself permission to moan and groan and regroup and reflect. And say anything I wanted to say without actually saying it loud and letting that morose energy affect my environment or relationships.

It was wonderfully freeing. I don’t do them everyday anymore. But whenever I feel that anxiety again, I whip out a pen and my notebook and just it let it all go.

I’m much older than I was before. It’s taken a lot of time, patience and a commitment to self-care to build that compassionate space for all of my ugliness. I didn’t always have the courage to look at my pain that closely.

What I’m trying to say is – morning pages sound easy. But they aren’t. So don’t worry if this isn’t wonderful first time around.

I hope the next one works for you. Because it still doesn’t for me.

Artist dates

Artist dates are all about getting comfortable with mischief, with messing around rather than mastering a skill. They’re about simply letting go and having fun, rather than doggedly focusing on the anxiety-inducing result. 

I’m pretty terrible at having fun.

I did go looking for inspiration and I did find it. In The Invitation, a movie by a woman of color who just came out of Hollywood jail.

And Stranger Things.

Horror. Sci-fi. Other dimensions. The 80’s. Geeky little boys. Bad-ass girls. Everything I love in one TV show. Sigh.

I also paid more attention to my time with my son. I let him be my teacher. There’s something to be said for letting toddlers lead the way. All he does all day is play and explore. He didn’t ‘learn’ to walk or to talk. He just got there eventually through discovery.

3. Recommitting to my vision as a storyteller

I went all the way back to the beginning. Why did I start writing in the first place?

At first – I mean, REALLY way back, when I was 6 – it was because it was fun. Was it still fun? Yeah, it is.

Then it was because stories inspired me. Stories like 12 Monkeys (which I saw way too young) and Edward Scissorhands. I fell in love with the underdog. I still am in love with them/us.

And then I realized I was the underdog (around 14). But nowhere was I represented, as either hero or villain.

So I set out to change that.

I dabbled with poetry (I was a teenager. They were mostly tear-filled missives to Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys. Judge if you want. I sometimes do.)

I dabbled with short stories. I had more fun with these.

But ultimately my heart really sang when I watched movies. There’s a reason why they called them moving pictures.

Do I think there’s a possibility that I may never see myself and people like me represented onscreen? Oh yes. Given that black and LGBT people are only now getting the representation they deserve, that too mostly in the indie space, Muslims? I dunno, dude. Many people have told me just how conservative politically Hollywood is. ‘The greatest lie the devil ever told is that Hollywood is liberal’, a dear friend and actress told me. Will Muslims and their stories ever be welcome there truly? Only time will tell.

4. List my resources.

Okay, so I’ve established that I want to make a movie.

What resources do I have to do so?

  1. A little money.
  2. A little knowledge.
  3. My own family home here in Colombo.
  4. My husband’s family home is available to a lesser degree.
  5. To an even lesser degree and subject to many time and ethical constraints, I may have access to the homes of four or five relatives around Colombo.
  6. And them too to a degree, I suppose.
  7. Friends with money
  8. Friends with expertise.

The further away from me the resource gets, the less access I have to it.

But that’s not all the resources I have. I also have:

  1. Quirks
  2. contradictions
  3. Grief
  4. Fury
  5. Helplessness
  6. Dreams
  7. Nightmares
  8. Ambitions

The biggest resource I have is probably the story. But what story can I write with the resources I have? What story will really get me going?

This leads me to the last and most enjoyable step.

5. Combine and combust my resources till my passion is reignited. 

Working with what I have, I’ve come up with a bunch of one-location feature ideas. I haven’t decided on which one to work on yet. But I know why I want to work on it.

The why is this woman right here.

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I want to speak to my mother again. I want to relive the last days I had with her. Maybe be kinder, more honest, maybe say the things I wish I had said.

I want to see my mother again. As she was. As she could have been. As she is in my eyes. I want to ask her about being a mom. I want to ask her how to she dealt with it. I want to hear her staccato syntax construction again, part Sri Lankan, part ludicrously well-read classical and non-fiction literature fanatic. I want to hear her struggle to access the experience she knows she has. I want to help her find the words to articulate her experience.

I want to laugh when we fail. I want to laugh when we succeed. I want to cry when we disagree. To laugh when we disagree. I want to talk circles around her with my college brat arrogance.

I want to be with my mother again.

Maybe this story is my greatest resource. The outcome is the furthest thing from my mind. Within the story, I can move outside of space and time and be with my dearest friend again.

Do I need anymore encouragement? Not really. Do I need anyone to give me permission to write this story? Nope. No. Never.

Am I excited to write this story? Yes. Always. It would seem that everything I’ve written has been for my mother.

I can’t see beyond that. To optioning and pre-production and blah blah blah. And I don’t want to. I just want to be with my mother for a while.

That’s enough juice for me.

Would love to hear what story you have burning inside you. Figuratively, of course. As I said before – build up, don’t tear down.

Much love,

Sabina.

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