My husband teaches religion classes to high school students for a living. So he's always coming up with object lessons to teach different principles. One of my particular favorites is called "The Quarter in the Toilet." It involves herding the entire class into the bathroom and holding up a quarter. He asks them how much a quarter is worth and someone says, "Twenty-five cents." Then he asks them what its value is and someone says, a little slower this time, as if he's aged fifty years in a single moment, "Twenty-five cents." Then he chucks the quarter into the toilet and asks, "And what's its value now?"
Except for some enterprising freshman, most of his kids aren't willing to go in after it; to everyone but that freshman, the quarter actually has negative value now. Still, a quarter is a quarter is a quarter, in the hand or in the bowl. Whether they value it or not, that quarter is still worth twenty-five cents.
As a writer, I sure feel like a quarter in the toilet sometimes--especially when I'm querying. I often only feel as good as my last response, so when a rejection rolls in, my confidence dips. And when the rejections pile up, my confidence plummets.
But the truth is, my worth as a writer has nothing to do with how everyone else values my writing. My worth as a writer is defined by certain inherent characteristics--my talent, my passion, my desire--and those things never change.
It reminds me of Max Lucado's beautiful picture book YOU ARE SPECIAL. His main character, the much maligned Punchinello, only receives ugly gray dots from his fellow wooden puppets, and in a society built around public praise or scorn, those gray dots might as well be the plague. But then Punchinello meets Lucia, another wooden puppet who bears neither the stars nor the dots of her fellow townspeople. Punchinello asks her why her stickers don't stick, and she tells him: Because she cares more about what the woodcarver thinks than what the other puppets think. Because she knows her worth as a wooden puppet is intrinsic. It has nothing to do with how much the other puppets reject, or adore, her.
Now, obviously, constructive criticism is, well, constructive; I'm in no way suggesting that we don't consider and try to incorporate the feedback we receive. And it's pretty much impossible not to feel that tiny thrill when a request or, gasp, an offer of representation comes. But in the end, those things do not define us. In the end, we are worthwhile writers simply because we are.
Do I always think this way? Sadly, no. There are minutes and hours and days and weeks when I feel about as valuable as a quarter in the toilet. So this post is just as much for me as it is for you. I plan to look back at it whenever I'm feeling low. Because even when I don't believe it, I know it's true.