Most writing careers could be described as roller coaster rides.
In the beginning, circa 2010, I gaily announced on my blog that I intended to document my path from creation to publication and assured my potential followers thus: “Come along. It’ll be fun.”
Well, here’s the thing. You guessed it – it’s not always fun. Sometimes it is thrilling, such as when a line or a phrase lands so exquisitely on the page that my own breath is taken from me. Which happens, um let’s see… oh, I remember – never! Seriously though, there are those mornings when lines of words work; phrases that nudge up so comfortably against one another I wonder at the miracle of it all. Then there are those many moments; those many, many moments when Facebook provides refuge from the cursor’s relentless blinking.
A couple of years ago at one of my Costa Rica retreats, Sue Reynolds offered the participants the opportunity to write for 10 minutes about their responses to rejection. We all scribbled madly away and then handed in our pieces. We were shocked to find that we were to read aloud someone else’s anonymous piece.
I had written about how I wanted to tear up my rejected story, feeling like a fraud, how convinced I was that no one wanted to read what mattered to me, and well, all that other ‘council of apes’ talk. I wasn’t alone. Rejection hurts and has the potential to wound our fragile egos. As the readings continued I was struck not just by the similarity of our reactions to rejection, but how the listeners teared up. It seemed clear to the listeners that the author’s sense of rejection was ill-founded, and the truth lay more in the fact that the work had not found a home, not that the writer was essentially flawed.
There have been sporadic emails to inform me a story is a runner-up or even a winner which can send me into a mania of writing because apparently I’m a winner. But more often there are kind emails telling me the opposite. And then there is the long list of red-inked “Declined” in my Submittable profile which could slide me down into a place I am not at all fond of.
However, many rejections and a few acceptances, a few minor and one major win later, I have come to feel as though I have sturdy feet. That is to say, a solid connection with the ground; a confidence in my work that can withstand criticism and rejection. I’ve received some very encouraging notes from agents, acknowledging my ability but in the end not being confident that they could sell this particular story. Instead of despair, I generally feel buoyed and positive, certain that all I need to do is keep sending that puppy out and eventually the exact right agent or publisher is going to swoon with delight and swing open that kennel door.
But the other day I got hit with a one-two punch and I went down with a thud. Brian and I were shopping for fish at Whole Foods. Fish and fresh figs to be exact. While he discussed the various textures and cooking methods of cod, salmon and bass I found a quiet spot by the spices to check my emails. From a magazine to which I’d sent a short story I received a lovely rejection, full of praise and the invitation to send more work. I beamed a smile to Brian. All was well.
Then, on the way home, my phone dinged and I saw that an agent, one whom I was sure, really sure, completely certain in fact, would love and champion my novel, had sent an email. My story fulfilled all of her wish list’s requirements. We were made for each other. And she’d requested it! I hadn’t realized until the moment I read her response how sure I was of our liaison.
After reading her not-so-encouraging comments about my novel, I said with a light tone, “Oh well. Onward and upward.” And shut down the phone. I’m resilient, right? I know the ropes. I’ve won a big award. My peers tell me my writing is OK. Just keep swimming, right?
I crashed. I’ll admit it – I’m not as equanimous as I think I am. Or would like to be.
Last week, Barb Hunt posted a meme on Facebook that sums it up perfectly:
Then, at Sanctuary with Sue Reynolds last Saturday, I overheard a conversation about submitting work and subsequent rejections. Apparently, the percentage of submitted work that is accepted for publication is 10%.
That made me feel a bit better, so I went home and sent off a short story to the editors of the journal who had expressed an interest in considering other work.
The puppies are still in the pen, but I’m feeding them well so they get nice and strong and ready to run when the gate does swing open at last.
Oh, and I suppose I should round the metaphor up by referring to the roller coaster again. Perhaps I’m on that slow drag up where it all seems safe and easy and it’s just a matter of time before I crest that top curve…
As my mom used to say, “Hope springs eternal.”