Rejections: the other half of pursuing a writing career

Once upon a time I had a great story concept. I was so excited about it I queried before I’d even finished the first draft (cue cringes from all writers reading this). It was, in fact, so good that I got two agent responses. One that said “I’d love to get your query when this is finished”. The other that asked for a sample chapter.

Holy crap.

For any writer seeking representation, this is a big deal. Round Two! I made it to Round Two!

I sent it off and started feverishly working on my outline and manuscript (during work hours) and obsessively checking my email. The rejection didn’t take too long to come. “Thanks but no thanks. This is a subjective business. Please don’t give up, this just isn’t right for us right now.”

Really one of the nicer rejection letters I’ve received. But it was crushing. What was even more crushing was the agent’s blog, which I had been reading daily. In it she mentioned she’d received some sample work and one of the pieces was absolutely wonderful.

“The rest were just not there yet. The writers could benefit from some workshops and refining their craft.”

I knew she was talking about me. About my work. My unfinished, unedited sample chapter.

It felt like a blow to the solar plexus. All work on my manuscript stopped. All writing stopped. During work hours, I went back to doing my work and playing games on facebook. I decided I didn’t have what it took to be a writer. I was not good enough.

Now obviously I made more than a few mistakes here. I tried to cut corners. I thought just because I had a great concept my work would fall in place. I took the rejection to mean much more than it did.

But artists are a sensitive bunch. When we write we are typing out our souls and when we share what we’ve written, it often times feels as if we’re pulling open our rib cage and allowing someone to examine our beating hearts. So rejection of that beating heart is pretty tough to suck up.

My mistakes here were prevalent and obvious. And necessary to make in order to learn. I did return to writing, although that story still waits in limbo, partially finished, and I went on to query and be rejected many more times. I’ve gotten discouraged and even shelved a finished manuscript because it became obvious to me that it was a hard sell and it still needed something I didn’t know how to give just yet.

Last year, a writer friend of mine was thrilled to announce he’d made it Round Two with an agent. He was new to the querying game and I was more than a little jealous that his work might find representation so soon, but I wished him the best.

A month later he gave up writing. My heart broke for him a little bit but I knew something he didn’t.

Rejection of our beating hearts is the other half of this business. It is absolutely necessary. It makes us grit our teeth and say “I’ll show you.” We release our egos and distance our hearts from our work when we go into editing mode. We let people tear our stories to shreds and say “Thank you for your help.” And at some point, it really is help. We mature. We hone our craft. We persevere.

If we self publish we steel ourselves against bad reviews or no sales. In traditional publishing, we endure constant form rejections or no response at all.

Learning to accept the rejection and keep going is as important a part of being a working writer as the writing part is. Maybe even more so.

There are numerous articles and blog posts about it but until you have your soul crushed, you will not learn. Every writer, working and otherwise will tell you their stories of failure and rejection, but you will not hear them until you have experienced it yourself.

So where is the good news here?

Last night I was rejected for a great writing opportunity. And it was completely okay. My manuscript isn’t ready yet. It needs more work. It could benefit from some workshops. And I’m ready to put in the work to make it great, because I believe in my novel and it deserves to be it’s very best.

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