The “R” word’s an ugly one. Nobody likes talking about it. But rejection is a major part of a writer’s life. There’s not a conventionally-published author alive who hasn’t experienced that sting. Nobody–not even the J.K. Rowlings out there–make it through this biz without a few scrapes.
This week, I received a rejection letter (couldn’t we bibliophiles have come up with a less brutal term for this? What’s wrong with “No Thank You Correspondence?”) from one of the literary agencies to which I’d submitted my novel.
It was actually a relatively flattering letter as far as they go. But in the end, they still said “no.” They couldn’t offer me representation. You always know this is a possibility, of course. But you hope really, really, really hard that this time, the answer’ll be “yes.”
Reading the rejection, Professional Lauren appreciated the speed of the agency’s response. Treasured the compliment to my writing talents. Tucked away the constructive criticism for analysis and implementation.
Devastated Writer Lauren briefly, seriously considered just tossing in the towel–closing down my laptop and moving on with my life. Turning the 11-12 hours/week I spend writing toward more relaxing pursuits: painting, reading, swimming, time with my husband, family, and friends.
That’s the curious, illogical, crippling thing about rejection. The moment I read that line–“Unfortunately, we are unable to offer….”–I forgot all my previous publications, the awards my writing’s won, my graduate school professors who called my writing “lyrical,” who encouraged me to pursue publication for my essays. In that moment, I worried that my thousands of hours of time and effort have all been a waste. I feared that I’m talentless, that I don’t have what it takes to pull this ridiculous undertaking off.
I’m not proud of this reaction. I’m not proud of the fact that I spent the hour after I read that rejection literally crying onto my keyboard as I tried to edit. (Turns out this isn’t the most effective proofreading strategy.)
But I also don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. Every writer is different, sure. But this taking-rejection-like-a-gut-punch thing isn’t an uncommon authorial affliction.
And here’s the real point: I may have been soaking my keyboard, but I did keep editing. I didn’t close the laptop. I didn’t walk away. I didn’t give myself the rest of the week off (though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider giving myself time to lick my wounds).
The longer I do this writing thing, the more certain I become that resilience–not artistry, talent, or inspiration–is the most important of writerly qualities (at least for authors seeking to be traditionally published). I can think of several writer friends who were more talented than me, but who aren’t publishing–either because they decided the publication juice wasn’t worth the squeeze (totally valid decision), or because they gave up. The divide between my getting published and their not has nothing to do with talent or creativity. Instead, it comes down to my gritting my teeth, digging in my nails, and pushing up from the dirt when I’ve been knocked down.
A quick Google reveals article after article citing the repeated rejections of now-famous writers: this one from Buzzfeed offers a quick survey: Gertrude Stein tried to sell her poems for 22 YEARS?! before scoring a publication. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was turned down 121 times. John le Carré was told that he “hasn’t got any future” as an author.
These now-household names were only published because they defied all mathematical, logical, evidence to the contrary and continued to believe in their works, their words. At any point, they, too, might’ve given up. But instead, they printed one more manuscript, licked one more envelope, pasted one more stamp. Released one more submission on the wind of hope and prayer.
And eventually, they got their “yes.”
So I’m writing about this week’s rejection letter not to pout, garner sympathy, or criticize the rejecting agency. I’m deeply grateful for their professional courtesy in replying quickly, their kindness in taking the time to write a flattering note and a specific reason for rejection, rather than replying via form letter.
Instead, I want to offer encouragement, to extend a hand to anyone considering giving up the dream. There’s no shame in deciding publication–conventional or otherwise–is no longer what you want. But if that desire continues to burn, then grip the courage to pen that next book, work that next re-write, send off that next submission.
Because you never know when someone will catch the fire of your vision.
Like what you’ve read? Follow my blog via email or WordPress (on the sidebar), or shoot me an email (using the footer).
FEATURED IMAGE PROPERTY OF mitendicotthouse.org.