It wasn’t anything personal. Except, you know, it was.
I submitted a manuscript I’ve spent several years on, parts of which have won or been long-listed for awards, and the editor of the press came back to me with a thanks, but no thanks.
Amid the constructive criticism, he said a few great things, but all I heard was a big fat NO.
I admit it. I’ve gotten cocky. Over the past few years, it feels as if all my hard work, almost 25 years of living the writing life, is finally starting to pay off.
So, after I immersed myself in this manuscript over a couple weeks spent at Sage Hill last spring, I think I actually thought that it was pretty much finished.
That the next steps – finding a fitting home, polishing it to that perfect shine, ushering it to its audience – would almost happen independent of me.
What I really wanted, I think, was what we all want in life: to avoid disappointment.
In this case, to skip over the hard effort of squinting again and again at the work, improving it, refining it.
I wanted it to be easy, not the typical path of learning from rejections, letting them teach me, sucking the marrow out of every bone-brittle NO.
That’s usually the way it works, but instead, this time, as exhausted as I am, as sad as I seem to be most days, I read the email and I thought: Fuck you.
I sat at my mother’s kitchen island and missed with a deep ache what my step-father would have said: Don’t give up.
I heard him so clearly, knew those words so well, that I realized he was with me, right then, in my heart, in my head.
Earlier this week, I went into his office, sat at his desk and got back to work. In my printed-out poems, I’ve found a whole bunch of missed opportunities: for stronger images, sharper verbs, more interesting nouns, cleaner, more musical rhythms. The kind of fine attention to language that makes me very happy.
I understood what the editor had said to me in his critique.
And damn it, I learned from it.
Sometimes it takes rejection, it takes disappointment, to realize how good we can be, how strong.
Image by Ginny
On another topic, and I am not sure this is the correct forum but don’t know how else to communicate with you, I just finished the much ballyhooed Station Eleven. Have you read it? I have much to say about it but won’t do it here, but do want to say that Swarm was far and away the better book in this genre, more realistic, believable, and full of details I continued to mull over for weeks afterwards, one example, what to do when sealer rings no longer do the job. I am not panning Station Eleven, a good “light” read, but am eager to tell you that Swarm was so much better.
Wow. Thanks, Hallyhook. High praise. I haven’t read it yet, but really appreciate you reaching out to tell me this 🙂
As one who has accepted that as a first time writer with little to show in the way of published work, I expected (and am getting!) years of rejection as I send out and wait the obligatory three months.
That published authors of your calibre have to trudge the same road, I find heartening as I too polish and refine, and send out again. And again. As Ruth says, we”know there is no other life to live.”
Glad to hear this helps you, Sarah! We do, as you say, trudge the same road (not only in this case, but also in the effort to sit down and do the work). I remember years ago taking a class with Austin Clarke and realizing that we were doing the same thing: both writing, both sometimes frustrated, both sometimes struggling to say exactly what we meant. That was a breakthrough for me.
I have a ms ready to go for an evaluation and well understand your feelings of frustration and anger. Once they dissipate you know there is no other life to live.
The disappointments make the victories that much sweeter. Carry on.
‘Tis true! Good luck with your manuscript.
Thank you, Lauren. Looking forward to getting some excellent feedback. Looking at my work with fresh eyes was a new experience, and I enjoyed it.Next we will see what REALLY
fresh eyes see!
Good for you getting back on the horse that threw you. Some years ago I just lay on the ground and let my horse run away, never to return. Seeing your bravery as you climb back on (to beat a metaphor to death), I just want to whap it on the rump and shout “heehawwww, you go girl.” It’s such a rough ride sometimes, but we all know you will get there.
Thanks, Hallyhook. & I think your horse is still out there 🙂
My heart hurts for you, Lauren. Grief, rejection. Who needs it? Anger and tell the world to FO. Feels good. Then acceptance.and there you go on track again. You can do it, and with all the accolades you will realize, and deserve. Cheers to you.
Thank you, Myrna. Hugs.
Lauren, you know what they say. There’s no such thing as writing, only rewriting. One famous Canadian writer, wish I could remember his name, papered his bathroom with rejection slips before his first manuscript was accepted. He wrote One Damn Thing after Another.
Yes, thanks for the comment, Diane!