Take notes. This is one of the most repeated, not to mention most apt, pieces of advice that writers will hear. Carry a notebook with you, or use your laptop or cyberphone if you have it, but make sure that you put your ideas and observations down in some tangible form before they pass out of your head. A lot of it will be junk, but there are veins of gold to be mined from all those random scribblings.
Here’s a variation on that advice that just occurred to me: when you’re querying your book, take notes on your mental state, particularly as you receive rejections. Make an activity out of it. Not only will it give you something productive to do while you’re doing all this waiting (besides writing your next novel, of course), but it will offer you a wealth of emotional description to call on later. There’s something kind of magical about rejections: each one hits you in its own unique way. I’ve gotten more than 75 rejection letters by now (with many more still to come), but no two of them felt the same. Each of my responses was a special cocktail made up of varying degrees of anger, frustration, sadness, self-pity, dismissal, black humor, and even renewed self-confidence. You could get a thesaurus out of it.
Still, I can group them into loose categories. The worst are the gut-punch rejections, the ones that you either didn’t see coming or that caught you with your hopes up. Last week I got one of those, from one of my ace-in-the-hole agents who wanted to see more from me after rejecting The Northerners. Well, maybe “ace”-in-the-hole is a bit of wishful thinking; it was more like a pair of threes in the hole, but it was enough to raise my expectations. So when this agent passed on my partial, it definitely hurt, and although I probably read too much into the fact that he didn’t ask to see my next book this time around, that helped land the punch right on my liver.
More common are the ear-flick rejections. These are the ones that cause only momentary annoyance on their own (usually these are form query rejections and not partial or full rejections). But each flick makes your ear hurt a little more and sours your mood, so hopefully enough time passes between them that you can relax a bit and not take them too hard.
The best rejections, however, are the ones that fuel your fire. These rejections bring about the “I’ll show you” response and turn you into the hero of your own underdog sports movie. “I’ll revise and rewrite, I’ll keep querying, I’ll write ten more books if I have to, but I’ll get published and I’ll kick your ass, Apollo!” These responses have less to do with the rejections than with you the writer, but they’re absolutely critical. And they’ll be there when you need them. If not, play the Rudy theme or run in slow motion down a beach, and you’ll be surprised how much better you feel. Either way, take notes on how you feel, because if you’re going to go through the emotional wringer like this you should at least get some material out of it.