Why Rejections Have Made Me a Better Writer

May 24

“I don’t know how you keep writing and writing,” my husband said to me last night as I lay reading a book in bed. “You’re so self-disciplined, it’s impressive.”

I laughed lightly. “Or I’m just impressively delusional.”

We were referring to my latest manuscript project. I call it project because it has spanned the last four years (with another manuscript and several other writing projects in between) and has undergone more surgical procedures than Joan Rivers’ face. Now, I’m heading into my third round of querying, which is a huge undertaking all on its own. The book’s first submission effort (three years ago), resulted in a modest number of rejections. I was a real newbie at the time and had already suffered the rejections of my first kids’ chapter book a year earlier. ┬áBut this time, I was sure, the agents would be lining up with their offers. It was that good.

When all my queries were rejected (probably around 40 in all), I was heartbroken. I did what most starting writers do at this point in the game: complained that the submission system was unfair to new writers. I railed against the agents and editors who didn’t recognize a good book when they saw one. Then I licked my wounds and moved on to my next writing project. So convinced in the quality of my middle grade book, I wrote a sequel to it.

Through the course of writing it, a funny thing happened. My writing improved. A lot. I forced myself to write almost daily, studied books on the craft of writing, and revised, revised, revised. By the time it was complete, I had an even better book than the first one. Maybe the first one wasn’t as good as I’d initially thought.

I shopped around the sequel to a handful of agents. Wrote up a killer query and tried to sell the two books as a package. Then the rejections came. Again. But this time, I received a few personal notes rather than the usual cold form letter, as well as a request for the manuscripts for further review (which just delayed the rejection). However, it was an improvement. I knew I was getting better at the game. But still, I’d taken a beating and decided to give up on these books and move on to my newest story idea (a Young Adult novel).

As I worked on my newest manuscript, those darn middle grade novels gnawed at my consciousness. Maybe I needed to give it one last chance. In November of last year, I decided to follow my gut and re-work the first book. Change the characters’ names, re-do scenes, raise the reading level. I didn’t think it would take long. Wrong again. The more I delved into the manuscript, the more I realized its weaknesses. Determined to make it the killer story I envisioned, I wrote daily, joined a children’s literature critique group, studied more writing resources, opened myself to advice from veterans. And, did I mention I wrote daily?

And something funny happened, again. I realized why my book was rejected three years ago. It wasn’t, um, as good as I thought. Today, I am more confident than ever that this middle grade book is awesome. Yeah, I said it. Awesome. Is it good enough to be picked up by a publisher? I’m not sure. I’m painstakingly crafting my query right now.┬áTime will tell if all my work has paid off.

When my husband asks me how do I keep going, I usually shrug and shoot a finger at my temple (POW). But, deep down, I know the real answer. I see my writing improve, and along with that, my opportunities to be published do, too. The rejections are a call to action: write more, write better. Don’t. Give. Up.

 

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2 comments

  1. Thank you! There seems to be as much encouragement in the sharing process with other writers as in the publishing or even editing of “professionals”.

  2. You’re so interesting! I don’t suppose I’ve truly read through something like that before. So great to discover another person with some genuine thoughts on this issue. Seriously.. thanks for starting this up. This web site is something that is required on the web, someone with some originality!