The writer and self-esteem

Since My Double Life is coming out in three months, I’ve written a lot of emails to my editor, Tim, AKA the bow-tied one, about marketing stuff. (I want to hold some sort of celebrity look-alike contest, but more about that later.)

The bow-tied one didn’t answer my emails for like, two months straight.

I admit right off that I’m a worrier. When I was first married, I had to have many talks with my husband about unexpectedly coming home late from work. My imagination kicked in at twenty minutes. By thirty minutes, I was planning his tearful funeral and trying to figure out how I would rebuild my shattered life. You just can’t do that to a woman for very many days in the week.

Thank goodness for cell phones. Now I can call him when he’s late. He doesn’t pick up, but at least this way I can stop worrying about any demise that would also involve the vaporization of his cell phone.

I was okay at first when I didn’t hear from Tim. I just figured he didn’t want to talk marketing. But about the time that second month rolled around I started creating scenarios. Putnam was dropping me. He’d been fired. He was mad at me. He had cancer. The whole company was dissolving.

He finally called. I told him about my dropping me-fired-mad-cancer-company dissolving thoughts. “You shouldn’t worry me like that,” I told him. “Writers have vivid imaginations.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Vivid imaginations and low self-esteems. It’s a deadly combination.”

“Low self-esteem?” I repeated a bit aghast. “Nobody has ever told me I have low self-esteem.”

“Well, they’re not going to say it to your face,” he said.

Apparently they wouldn’t, but he would. This is just one more editorial service the bow-tied one offers.

I’ve thought about that conversation a lot lately. I don’t think I have low self-esteem. Sure, I know I’m far from perfect. I could do a blog of all my faults. Heck, I could do a blog of all the things I’ve lost lately, and it would be a hefty list. (My Garmin, my car keys, my temper, the time.)

But that’s one of the nice things about being a writer. I don’t beat myself up over, say, being terminally disorganized. I just tell myself: I’m an artist. We’re supposed to be different.

In general, I’m pretty happy with myself and life. I’ll tell you my secret. I try not to concentrate on my achievements (which I think would depress anybody). Instead I aim for a clean conscience. It’s amazing how awful I feel when I know I’ve done something wrong. I can’t feel good about myself until I’ve at least tried to set it right. But when my conscience is clean, I like myself.

So I really wondered about Tim’s comment about self-esteem. Did I have a poor self-esteem and I just didn’t know it? Did everybody out there think a lot more of themselves than I did, and I’d just never noticed? Why was he so sure I had low self-esteem?

Then I left my old agent and went out into the harsh, cold cyber world to find a new one. Suddenly the writers and low self-esteem comment made sense. We’re a bunch of people who pour our hearts into creating a story that we love. We not only do our utmost to create a nearly living breathing thing (at least it lives and breathes for us) but we quite literally put a slice of our mind and soul out there for people to judge.

And so many people find our best lacking. So many people find our souls not even worthy of their time.

What normal person could go through that repeatedly and not feel the pangs of a stabbed ego? Ditto for those revision comments that editors throw around like confetti at a Mardi Gras parade.

A normal person wouldn’t subject themselves to this sort of treatment. Which leads me to believe that writers don’t have low self-esteems. We’re the ones with high self-esteems or we would have fled this business at the first rejection letter. Or the twelfth. Or the fiftieth. And certainly by that 1,000 revision comment. (My Double Life had 1,200)

Thankfully, I wasn’t agentless for long. But to all of you in the trenches: hang in there, and hang on to those self-esteems. You’re going to need them later.


  1. D. Cootey
    February 9, 2010 at 3:11 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. D. Cootey
    February 9, 2010 at 3:12 am

    You have no idea how much I needed to read this, Janette.

    I suffer from Depression and recently wrangled with this rejection/worry problem. I take so many blows to the chin in stride, I wonder why some hurt more than others. I have decided that most of the time I do have very good self-esteem. Sometimes, though, I am teetering at the edge of a dive into the black bog when a rejection comes along. I just need to take extra care to protect my self-esteem at those moments.

    I look back at that rejection now and I see it as a feather blown at me by the wind, but for some reason it hit me like a two by four last week. We truly do put a slice of ourselves out there for the world to judge.

    BTW, two months without contact is definitely worth worrying about. You’re not out of line. It’s a business you’re trying to conduct. Communication is key. I detest it when editors/clients take their time getting back to me, then tell me they need it tomorrow. But that’s the nature of the publication industry, isn’t it?


  3. Janette Rallison
    February 9, 2010 at 6:36 am

    Yes, that is exactly the nature. I’m glad this blog touched a chord with you! Those rejections are hard even in the best of times.

  4. Juju at Tales of
    February 9, 2010 at 7:08 am

    Writing is so hard. Like you said, you put your heart and soul out there. Thats not low self esteem. Thats fear. Warranted fear. Keep your chin. Never feel bad for being diligent!

  5. Sarah M Eden
    February 9, 2010 at 8:40 am

    I tried to explain this to someone recently–she was sort of up on her high horse saying that if someone can’t handle the rejection/criticism/etc that is part of the writing industry, than that person shouldn’t be a writer. (PS–she has never even attempted to have anything published. Figures, right?)

    Here’s how I explained it. Being a writer is sort of like being a pinata. You take a lot of hits, but for the most part you keep it together. Once in a while someone or something hits at just the right time in just the right way and things fall apart for a while. Anyone would break under those circumstances. The difference is, authors (the ones who survive this industry, anyway) put the pieces back together and get back out there.

    So, yeah, writers have moments when their self esteem is battered and when they kind of break down. But I think most “normal” people would be amazed to know that we duct tape ourselves back together and go take some more blows.

  6. Valerie Ipson
    February 9, 2010 at 8:48 am

    Great post, Janette, and I like the pinata analogy, Sarah.

  7. Jackee
    February 9, 2010 at 9:11 am

    Thank you for this, Janette. I needed it today.

  8. Shari
    February 9, 2010 at 9:19 am

    You couldn’t possibly have a low self esteem. I only stalk people with high self esteems.

  9. Sara
    February 9, 2010 at 9:23 am

    What a great post, and so true. And Sarah I love the pinata analogy too. So perfect. So, are you saying you just barely got a new agent, or was that in the past? Either way, I hope everything goes really well with the launch of MDL!! 🙂 I can’t wait to read it!

  10. Janette Rallison
    February 9, 2010 at 9:35 am

    Yep, my new agent is George Nicholson with Sterling Lord. I feel like I’m in good hands there.

  11. Allyson Condie
    February 9, 2010 at 9:49 am

    Janette, I loved this post. Thank you for writing it!

    And I can’t wait to read MDL.

    And congrats on the Whitney nomination!!

  12. Aubrey (AKA Stacey)
    February 9, 2010 at 9:51 am

    Great post! I think it would be very hard to put your stuff out there and be rejected. It is hard enough getting critique on your stuff for editing.

    I think you are pretty level headed about the whole thing.

  13. Kristi Stevens
    February 9, 2010 at 11:48 am

    Wow, thanks for this post Janette. It’s just what I needed to hear. Especially since I’m in the trenches as we speak.

    I don’t think writers have low self esteem at all. Our perceived neediness is a direct result of what we put ourselves through. Writers by nature analyze life deeply. We tend to be more sensitive and much more self aware than most people. Which makes rejection even more of a challenge.

    Even if I know I’m not supposed to take a rejection personally, it still plants seeds of doubt. I teach public speaking and believe me, most people would not dream of putting themselves as far out there as writers do.

    I think writers are incredibly brave. We are some of the few in society who are willing to step out of our comfort zones in a huge way even though we know it’s going to hurt.

    Yay for writers! Yay for you! Can’t wait to read the finished product of My Double life.

  14. Melony
    February 10, 2010 at 12:00 am

    Wow….I finished reading my rejection email from my partial about an hour or so ago. I really needed this tonight so thanks for that. Trying really hard to keep it together and not think my work isn’t worth it. It’s hard tonight but hopefully things will look brighter in the morning. This post really helped.

  15. Nicole B.
    February 10, 2010 at 5:53 am

    What a great blog.

  16. Amie
    February 10, 2010 at 11:03 am

    I am so sorry authors go through this. I am so grateful there are people who put themselves out there. I just passed some books on to a friend who stopped by looking for something to read. We had fun talking about My Fair Godmother. We both loved it.

    Cellphones saved my marriage too. My husband ran out of gas 6 miles from home and decided he would just walk instead of finding a payphone or asking to use someones phone.

  17. Jennifer J.
    February 10, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    Good post, Janette. I think it hit home for lots of us. The trick seems to be can we put ourselves back together like Humpty Dumpty couldn’t after that big fall. Faith helps, and I don’t mean faith in a self-esteem way, and just being tenacious, keeping, keeping on.

  18. The Novelist
    February 10, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    I am looking forward to my first rejection. I haven’t made it far enough to get to the rejection part of writing yet.

    I’ll let you know how it goes though!

  19. Kim Smith
    February 11, 2010 at 5:32 am

    Just surfed in … congrats on your book coming out. I am in that boat and as Simon C says, it is a good boat to be in 😛

    Nice to meet ya!

  20. Elliah A. Terry
    February 12, 2010 at 7:41 am

    Thank you so much for this post! I just got my first agent rejection on a novel that is as much of my tears and soul as . . . well, my own tears and soul. Anyway, I’m feeling much better now. Thanks again.

  21. Camilla
    February 12, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    What an incredible blog. It struck a chord with me, and you would not believe how deeply I was in need of your words. They hit home for sure. We all go through the same things, I guess. Congratulations about your book. I know it will be fantastic, just like you.

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