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: