Friday, August 19, 2016

Writer's Corner: Rejection and What it Taught Me

So, it's been a while since I've updated you guys on my writing. There are a couple of reasons for that.

For one thing, with our summer schedule, the craziness of Hubby's working hours, and the fact that the girls were home 24/7, I really didn't do much writing this summer. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that I did no writing this summer, aside from blogging.

The other reason is that I didn't really feel like writing. I received my first official rejection from a literary agent in June. And as you can imagine, that was a little rough. Okay, it was REALLY rough.

I realize, of course, that rejection is an expected part of any hopeful writer's life. But as we all know, there's a difference between knowing something in your head and actually experiencing it. What stung the most is that the way in which I was rejected made it clear that my work had not met the mark of the agent's expectations. That was tough to swallow.

I really floundered for a while as I tried to process everything. I thought over different ways I could have worded my proposal or story that might have changed the agent's mind. I had my share of tears, emotional eating, and of long, anguished conversations with family and friends. I did a lot of soul-searching, struggled with self-doubt, and questioned both my writing and blogging and where I should take it next.

The rejection, coupled with some unexpected financial difficulties that came up this summer and some tough physical problems that I'd been dealing with, made for a tough couple of months.

After a few weeks, I talked things over with one of my local writing friends. She read over my proposal and first several chapters, and gave me some excellent feedback. But even with all of these new ideas of where I needed to go with the story, I felt like I needed to let things simmer a little bit. Then, when the girls were back in school, I would start making the changes in earnest, attacking my manuscript and getting it to the place it needed to be.

The girls have been in school for one week. During that time, I decided to scrap two characters from the first book (bringing them in later in the series instead), kill off one child (not literally, she just doesn't exist anymore), send an entire family to my bad guy's dungeon, and decided to cut the first seven or eight chapters from my book. My hope is that these changes will help simplify the story and keep the plot rushing forward like it's supposed to.

I'm also hoping to save up for a professional edit of at least part of the book from one of my instructors from Mount Hermon. (Yet another reason for my eBay listings.) ;) She writes the same genre as I do (speculative fiction), so she should have some excellent feedback and tips for me.

So, that is where the story stands as of this moment. But as for the title of this blog post, what did all of this teach me?

1. It's okay to be disappointed about rejection. When I first received my rejection email, I was trying so hard to be brave and stoic and muscle through it. There are some writers I know who have had fourteen or more rejections before ever getting accepted. Some never do. It's just the way it is. The publishing world is a tough place, and for every J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer, there are thousands of writers who dream big and never make the cut. I realize that, and so I tried to just move ahead with no emotional reaction. But as my dear writing friend Sarah reminded me, it's okay to grieve!

Rejection hurts. For a writer, there's something so painful about having your work rejected. It feels like someone is rejecting one of your children. This is something you toiled and labored over. Part of you is embedded into those words. Parts of your soul, your emotions, and your life experiences are hidden in those pages. It's okay to grieve...as long as you don't get stuck there.

2. Be willing to learn. None of us have arrived, especially those of us who are just beginning something new to us. We need to be humble, willing to accept that our work is not always as fabulous as we think or hope it is. We can't stubbornly cling to things that seem so imperative to us when many writer friends around us are saying, "you might want to consider changing that." It's important to consider the advice of those who have "been there, done that."

That being said, as we learn and grow as writers, there will be times when it's okay to stand by parts of our writing we feel strongly about, even if others think we should change it. This is one of the hardest parts of writing for me, because as a new writer, I always feel like I automatically need to follow every bit of advice I get from more experienced writers. The problem is, everyone has a different opinion. So if you follow everyone's advice, you'll end up confused and frustrated.

I'm not an expert by far, but I've found a good rule of thumb is to carefully (and prayerfully) consider each suggestion that comes your way, paying special attention to things that more than one person has seen as a problem. But ultimately, it comes down to each individual writer to decide what to do with his or her own work.

I think the main key is having an attitude of humility. Being confident in your work is okay as long as you're still teachable, striving to do your best in everything and willing to accept when you've made a mistake.

3. Rejection doesn't necessarily mean the end. It just might lead to a brand new beginning. Of course, I never would have chosen rejection. My preference would have been immediate acceptance, quick publication, a trip to the top of the bestseller list, and millions of copies sold worldwide. Hey, I can dream! ;) Many who write probably have similar fantasies. But just because we wish for something doesn't mean it's the best thing for us, or for our writing.

As I've struggled, talked to others, and received feedback on my writing over these past couple of months, one of the things I've realized is that this whole situation pushed me to analyze my story in a way I wasn't willing to before. There were characters I was deeply attached to, plotlines and chapters that I adored. I was told again and again how often writers need to "kill their darlings," to cut things that don't make the story work. I knew that. Deep in the back of my mind I had an inkling that some of these story elements weren't really working, but I was so deeply attached to them, I didn't feel I could change them.

My main character is basically me in a lot of ways. She has my reactions, my emotions, my thoughts. So to change anything about her, her family, or her setting seemed like cutting a part of me away. But as my friend Sarah once again reminded me, my main character is NOT me. She can have parts of me, but nothing about her character should be so "important" that it gets in the way of the story.

I feel like the rejection I got finally brought me to the point where I was ready to objectively step back, take a look at my work, and let go of things that weren't moving the story forward. I am so incredibly excited to see where this newfound determination to get to the heart of the story will take me.

***
My book has gone through dramatic changes over the course of the years, and each one has brought it closer to the story it is meant to be. I've learned so much from this journey already. My writing has improved immensely from going to writer's conferences, getting feedback from others, and desiring above all else to excel at my craft. I cannot wait to see where this adventure leads. Whether the end result is traditional publishing, a self-published novel, or even a simple spiral-bound book for my friends and family at Christmas, so be it. But no matter what the outcome, I want to know that I have held nothing back, that I have left everything on the page and done my absolute best. 

So thank you to the unnamed agent who changed the course of my summer. I truly believe you sent me that rejection with good reason and with my best interest at heart. And I hope that, if you ever get the chance to read my book someday, you'll be pleased with the changes I've made. Even if that doesn't happen, I'll always be grateful that you gave me that extra push I needed to make my work the best it could be. :)


A preview of some character concept art for your viewing pleasure: 

12 comments:

Tam said...

Harry Potter was rejected 12 times. Peter Rabbit was rejected so often Beatrix Potter ended up self publishing it. Gone With the Wind was rejected 38 times. The Wizard of Oz was rejected for years. Read this: http://brandonsneed.com/bestselling-authors-rejected-first/

Hannah Prewett (beastsbelle) said...

Loved this reminder, Tam. Thank you. :)

Barb the Evil Genius said...

The script for the new TV hit Stranger Things was rejected at least 15 times. It was thought it was a mistake to have kids driving the action, when it wasn't a kids' show. I suppose you haven't seen it, but it really deserves the accolades it's gotten. :)

I wish you much success with your writing, and hope that you also enjoy this process of growing in your craft.

Anonymous said...

Still, it's amazing that you finished the first draft of a novel! That's a HUGE accomplishment!! It's very brave to send off a manuscript, I'm so glad you've made it this far! I love your writing style, I hope that whatever happens you'll make the book available to buy for your blog readers! I'd love to read it :)

Cindybin said...

Great blog. And don't worry, you are an excellent writer and will get published eventually!

Farrah Lily said...

I think my favorite line from your entire post is this one: "My book has gone through dramatic changes over the course of the years, and each one has brought it closer to the story it is meant to be."
Your book WILL make it and it's great to feel that you believe that too. You always do such a great job of appreciating your blessings and it's very inspiring. We are all here for you!
xo

Hannah Prewett (beastsbelle) said...

Thanks so much, Barb. It's always good to be reminded of stories that have been rejected in the past and have gone on to be successful. :)

And yes, enjoying the process is something I want to hold onto. :)

Thanks, Anonymous! :) It was exciting to get from the beginning all the way through to "the end." :) And I would definitely love to make it available to my readers, even if it isn't traditionally published. Maybe I could do a Kickstarter campaign to help with the costs of self-publishing. :)

Thank you, Cindybin! Nice to hear from you again. :)

Thanks so much, Farrah Lily. Your comments always make me smile. :) I definitely wasn't at a place where I could write this post earlier this summer, but now I can honestly see how this all worked out for the best. :) And thank you to you and everyone else who are here cheering me on! :D

Joanne Mariel Maniago said...

Hi Beastsbelle!

What inspiring words you have!

Also, I have an update regarding Alyona, the Ukrainian girl!

My Israeli friend Hagit is just making a few changes to Alyona.

As I previously said, Alyona's blouse will be red and the shoes will be blue. Hagit decided to swap the colors of Alyona's blouse and shoes. So, the blouse will be blue and the shoes will be red.

By the way, Alyona's eyes will be GRAY instead of brown! If you want to know why Hagit needed to change Alyona's eye color, it is because Alyona is blind! This makes Alyona the first ever HFHG Doll with a disability!

Doll Dimensions said...

This was so inspiring and helpful to me...I often have similar struggles, since my dream is to be a writer/designer some day. Thank you so much for sharing...and the character art looks AMAZING! :) You are so incredibly talented and you inspire so many people. Never stop doing what you do! <3

CapitalTx said...

I received my first rejection today (not a manuscript but a piece for a published anthology) and I treated the whole thing very indifferently and after reading your post I've realised that I am sad that it was rejected, I'm not grieving because it's still material for future work but I know exactly how you feel, writers put so much of themselves into what they write, when others don't see what you see, well it hurts. At the same time I think it makes us stronger and helps us improve. I'm glad you've realised this and I'm grateful for your post.
I am going to see every rejection as stepping stone towards something better. Keep writing and I truly hope you get your book published one day.

Meritre said...

I thinkit"s amazing that you actually share it with us. Thank you very much, I think your post is very helpful and inspiring.

Hannah Prewett (beastsbelle) said...

Thanks so much for sharing your stories and comments, everyone. :) I'm so glad I was able to offer you encouragement. Never give up!! :D