Years ago, when I was still dancing, I began free-lancing for newspapers and magazines. One day, I ran into an acquaintance from college. “Saw your Sunday feature,” she said. “Congratulations.”
“I wrote a story once,” she said, “but I sent it to a magazine and it got rejected.”
“Everybody gets rejected,” I told her. “You just have to keep at it.”
“I guess.” She sounded doubtful.
But what I told her is Writer Truth 101. Every writer I’ve ever met who’s had any degree of success can tell you perseverance (and a good bit of luck) is involved. During one of my last semesters in grad school, the head of our program, a multi-published excellent writer, told us in our business of writing class that it took seventy rejections before she found her literary agent. Unless we were extraordinarily lucky, we could expect a ton of rejections before hearing a “yes.”
She wasn’t kidding. I wrote two novels during grad school, and was excited to begin marketing the first one. Soon, however, I piled up dozens of rejections (including a few complimentary ones—but still, rejections) and revised my query letter and first chapter several times. And then last month, what felt like a miracle happened. After a publisher expressed potential interest in my work, I suddenly had interest from three agents and signed on with Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Agency. She was willing to take a chance on me and work with me to make my novel stronger.
Some other nice things happened this summer as well. Not to brag too much (okay, maybe a little), my YA novel, It Should Have Been You, won second place in the Next Great Writers Contest sponsored by Lexington’s Carnegie Center for Language and Literacy. Along with the first place winner, I’ll be reading from my novel at the Center on August 23. Then, this past week, I learned that my YA novel, Gone, had finished in the top ten and received honorable mention in the national Novel Writing Contest sponsored by the Institute of Children’s Literature.
In those weeks and months when I was accumulating all those rejections, I could easily have given up (and believe me, I was tempted). I felt like I was wearing a huge “LW” for “Loser Writer” on my chest. And then suddenly, this affirming stuff happened.
I’m starting to make peace with the writer’s reality that there will always be disappointments and rejections. But as my more positive experience this summer indicates, there’s the possibility of good things coming down the tracks as well.
No question in my mind that the writing life’s a roller coaster with downs, ups, and plenty of twists and turns. Some days, I’ve wanted to get off. But that would mean giving up writing, or else only showing my work to my husband who claims to love everything I write, no matter how crappy. The guy’s a terrible liar.
Hell, I’m just going to keep on keeping on. After all, roller-coaster rides are never boring.