Bracha Goetz responded to my recent call for Rejection Survivor Interviews. We had a fascinating discussion as a result of her interview, specifically on the topic of positive thinking versus facing your demons–and then it finally dawned on me that I had already read at least one of her books.
More than 20 years ago.
My mother had read The Happiness Box to me when I was a child struggling with anxiety.
The book is about a little boy who struggles to see the positive side of things, and his mother gives him a cardboard box where, if he goes inside, he can only think happy thoughts. I remember finding comfort in the concept that there could be a space where I would be safe from the worrying and upsetting thoughts that tended to overwhelm me.
How fitting, then, to interview Bracha Goetz—author of The Happiness Box and dozens of other spiritual children’s books, as well as a candid memoir, Searching for God in the Garbage–about coping with rejection!
When did you first decide to become a writer?
It’s not like I decided to become a writer, it’s more like I can’t help but write when I believe there is something that needs to be expressed into the world.
Tell us about your first-ever submission. What did you submit, and to whom?
I submitted a poem to McCall’s Magazine when I was 12. They had a Junior McCall’s page and they sent me an award that I still have when my poem was published.
When did you receive your first rejection? How did you cope with it?
I don’t remember when I got my first rejection, but I was astounded when the first children’s book I wrote was accepted. I was living in Israel then, and I wrote the picture book in a spiral notebook while I was sitting outside in the afternoons watching my little children play in the playground. I hand-wrote it, put it in an envelope, and sent it to several publishers in the states. A few weeks later, I received an acceptance letter in the mail.
After that, I kept writing many poems, articles, and picture books for children. Although a lot of my writing has been published, I got many rejection letters along the way, and this is what I do. As soon as I get a rejection letter, I research where else would be a good place to send it, and then I do that as soon as possible to keep the momentum going. But if something gets rejected over and over by everyone I send it to, then I usually try to figure out a way to revise it before I send it out again. Years ago, I used to submit my stuff by snail mail, but now it is such a pleasure to just email everything out.
It took you 30 YEARS to get your memoir published! How did you manage to persist in trying to publish it? What kept you from giving up?
My memoir, Searching for God in the Garbage, is the only long thing I’ve written, but really it isn’t because it’s a compilation of my actual diaries, journals, and poems kept through the years, so I just had to put it all together, not write something long–which is not my style. 🙂 So some publishers loved the first half of the book, but they didn’t appreciate the second half of the book, and other publishers loved the second half of the book and they wanted me to take out the most raw parts of the first half of the book. This is because the book is about making major spiritual changes in my life, and publishers tend to have certain points of view they want expressed in their books. Finally I found an agent for my memoir, and she deeply related to the book and was determined to find a publisher for it. It wasn’t easy for her either, but she finally did.
And it wasn’t like I was trying constantly to get it published for 30 years, but when I found out about a good possible publisher or agent over the course of those years, I would give it another try, editing the manuscript a number of times through the years as well. I have always felt that Searching for God in the Garbage is an extremely unique book with a vital message for the world, so that’s what kept me trying.
What’s the worst rejection or critique you ever received, and how did you recover from it?
One top publisher read the first half of my memoir and called me immediately to say it was the best manuscript she ever read and she asked me to rush her the second half of the book. Then I never heard from her again. When I finally tracked her down, she wasn’t at all interested in speaking with me because she hated the spiritual ending to my book. That was the hardest rejection from which I recovered, but in general, I try to only send out writing when I’m in a place of joy so that I’m aligned with the Source of abundance. Because if I’m not enjoying the process, I feel like I’ve gotten off track from the reason why I’m writing in the first place, as well as the purpose of life in general, to try and uplift the world in some way.
Who do you turn to for support when you get a particularly disappointing rejection?
I almost never let anyone know about all the rejections I get. This may be one of the first times! 🙂 I only share the acceptances with family members.
That’s unusual among my interviewees. Why do you think it is that you don’t feel a need to share about your triumphs and sorrows?
It’s probably because self-doubt demons don’t get much playing time in my head. I don’t feel the need to get support when I get rejections. I just try to think of some new angle or venue to get something published if I believe that it could make a difference in the world. I feel, why linger even for a minute feeling rejected, when there’s so much to do to make our world a better place? Getting rejected just means that I need to try something different. 🙂
I find it interesting that when I asked you about your first rejection, you told me about an acceptance; when I asked about your self-doubt demons, you said they don’t get much air time. You present a lot of important ideas about how to think about and frame these issues positively, but at least for me personally, changing my thinking patterns has never been enough to help me cope with painful feelings.
People often tell me that I’m an exceptionally happy person (and as the author of The Happiness Box, I do give “How to Be Happy” presentations) but I actually did not realize until now, that most people do not think this way! I tend not to stay in a down state for any longer than it motivates me to do something productive about it. I can acknowledge painful feelings for a moment (or for months after a traumatic event, like my Let’s Stay Safe and Personal Privacy books that came from dealing with abuse to a child), but I am in the habit of trying not to linger with painful feelings any longer than it takes to use those feelings to motivate myself to do something productive with them. 🙂
I believe that there is true resilience without facing our demons head-on, and that’s an intrinsic point in my memoir that I enjoy sharing far and wide. I believe that once we recognize that we are lacking pleasure in our lives (and while that recognition is important, it can be momentary) we have the ability to bring the greatest pleasure possible into our lives. Instead of spending a lot of time with our demons, we can leave them almost no space to take up, by filling our lives with the deepest and most lasting pleasures. And it is important to realize that we are not distracting ourselves from our demons by doing this, we are responding to them in the most effective way. We are actually filling the need that our demons are there to tell us to fulfill.
I don’t think that facing one’s demons has to involve getting stuck with them; it just means acknowledging them, giving them a name, and then moving on when you’re ready. I’ve struggled with depression on and off for most of my life, so we’re on opposite ends of the spectrum. I envy the ease with which you are able to let negative things go. I think it’s not just a matter of outlook or of life choices, it’s also a matter of disposition and genetics. That’s why I write the Rejection Survival Guide. This conversation is bringing to light that there are people who are naturally disposed to deal well with rejection. It’s important to know that people like you exist and everyone has their own way of coping with life, and they need to find the way that works best for them.
I appreciate your openness so much, Daniella! And yes, you are absolutely correct that happiness skills are derived so much from genetics and disposition. My mother, of blessed memory, was not a very happy person, but my father, of blessed memory, was the happiest person I’ve ever known. In fact, I dedicated The Happiness Box “To my father who gave me the gift of happiness.”
And yes, I do think it’s important to face our demons in order to recognize them, ’cause that’s how we can gain control over them. I often tell people that the job of the YH (yetzer hara or the self-destructive impulse) is to try to make us miserable, and I’m still working on a children’s book about how–as soon as we call the YH by its name, recognizing that it is at work–it loses much of its power in that very moment.
What are some ways you help yourself grow as a writer?
For me, the main thing is not to get too serious about it because being in a playful state of mind helps my writing to flow much better. So if I’m trying too hard to come up with the right way to express something, it’s a good time to take a break and get up and move about and do something different so that the brain waves get a chance to form new pattern possibilities. I also love to write when I’m a passenger on a plane, or train, or bus or car. Somehow that movement gets me flowing too. Wonderful ideas tend to come while I’m in yoga classes, flowing–but I don’t write them down until after class. 🙂 Also, keep a pad and pen by your bed because at dawn, amazing ideas tend to rise.
What do you have to say to fellow writers and creatives still drowning in “no”s?
I cannot even count the amount of rejections I’ve received over the years, but if you feel you have something important to express, find someplace to share it. You can even share it as a comment on social media. Just keep sharing the unique treasures you hold inside because that helps your soul to shine more and more brightly. And you never know who you can help by sharing your wonderful thoughts and perspective.
Bracha Goetz’s Rejection Survival Skills
Here are some of the rejection survival skills that stood out to me from Bracha’s interview:
- She responds to rejection with action: “As soon as I get a rejection letter, I research where else would be a good place to send it, and then I do that as soon as possible to keep the momentum going.” More on constructive responses to rejection and criticism here.
- She writes because writing is an act of love: “If I’m not enjoying the process, I feel like I’ve gotten off track from the reason why I’m writing in the first place.” See item #1 on the Creative Resilience Manifesto.
- She stays focused on her goals: “Why linger even for a minute feeling rejected, when there’s so much to do to make our world a better place?”
- She leverages her failures for motivation: “I am in the habit of trying not to linger with painful feelings any longer than it takes to use those feelings to motivate myself to do something productive with them.”
- She stays flexible and gentle with her creative expression: ” If I’m trying too hard to come up with the right way to express something, it’s a good time to take a break and get up and move about and do something different.”
Many, many thanks to Bracha for this fascinating interview and discussion! You can find Bracha’s books on Amazon here.