The Disappointment Bus

Disappointment is the lot of the writer. Following a recent and particularly bruising rejection, I used my time wisely to look up the derivation of the word disappointment. It comes from a French word, “disappointer” meaning to undo an arrangement or remove from office. There’s a suggestion not just of your plans falling through, but also of losing your job.

Having a book rejected is like losing your job. You put in many hours of writing, editing and redrafting, all of which organise your time, for months or even years. Like any job, this effort gives your life shape, provides a sense of identity and self worth and gives hope for a better and more prosperous future. Then with a rejection, or a series of rejections, all of this can disappear.

That’s how it feels. So how to deal with it? There are two approaches. First, there is denial. You ignore the rejection and push on. With this approach, you simply refuse to be disappointed. While there is much to be said for this stubborn philosophy, it can become a refusal to think you’re ever doing anything wrong. Denial in this sense is not so much the signature of writers as that of dictators, fundamentalist preachers, cult leaders, and, unfortunately, presidents of the United States.

Alternatively, you can accept that things have not worked out as planned. This puts you in the sad, passive, reflective state which we call disappointment, where it’s hard to do much of anything, let alone be resilient. But at least you are in a frame of mind which encourages quiet reflection. It might even be nature’s way of making you rest and reassess. Maybe it is no accident that writers are a famously disappointed lot, because as long as it does not suck the motivation right out of you, the pain of a setback can be creative. It shakes you out of routine, allowing in new ideas, and thoughts. If you never allow yourself to feel this way, then you are just blasting along like that bus in the film Speed, running over everything in your path, never stopping because stopping, or even slowing down, will result in an explosion.

So, if you have suffered a disappointment, you’ll feel bad now, but after this reflective time is over, another bus will be along. And this bus will be the normal, pleasant sort of public service vehicle which allows people on and off at stops. The driver will have time to wish you a cheery “good morning”, what with not having to drive at seventy miles an hour all the time. Rather than careering nonstop through Los Angeles with a bomb strapped to its undercarriage, this will be the sort of easygoing London Routemaster that takes you to places you want to go. This service is on its way and will be stopping to pick you up very soon.

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