A few years back, I finished a novel, my first. Well, my first that wasn’t god-awful. The novel was based on my life: a coming-of-age story about pizza, drugs, first love, friendship and death. I had changed enough to call it fiction. Feeling like a proud papa, I sent it off to a few agents who’d shown some interest after my initial query letter, and shortly, magically, I had acquired an agent. He loved my book, and assured me we’d find it a good home. “Am I dreaming?” I thought. “Could this really be happening to me?” So, I sat back and waited for my future as a successful novelist to begin. I waited. And waited. Then waited some more. Nothing. My panic growing, I called my agent. “What’s going on?” Agents are thoughtful, tender folks, like mothers nursing their babies. They don’t want to call you and tell you all the negative things said by publishers about your work. They let you down easy. “Looks like the book isn’t going to sell. Everyone loved the book, really, but they question its marketability,” he told me, my dreams dashed. “This book’s just not gonna happen right now,” he said.
That was that. My book was dead. Many people had read and loved the novel, but it wasn’t going to be published. I was devastated. I couldn’t write for weeks after hearing the bad news. I drowned my sorrows in cigarettes and chocolate. Then my sadness passed. I thought, “Okay, so my novel didn’t sell, but the next one will be better, so good they won’t be able to deny me.” I started writing again, fully aware that I might have more rejection waiting for me. But I’m a writer. I write. I pick my pathetic ass off the ground and write. I slap myself in the face and write. I stop my woe-is-me sulking and write. I just write.
Rejection is not failure. Giving up is failure. As long as you’re writing, you’re doing just fine. A writer must write for him or herself, because for our kind, a life without words is no life at all. If you stop writing and don’t miss it, you’re probably not meant to be a writer. I often say, “Even if I’m never a successful novelist, I’ll always write, because it’s what I do.” Yes, rejection hurts, but it strengthens us as writers, forces us to do better, work harder, never give up.
Are all published writers great? No way. Are all unpublished writers terrible? Of course not. To be successful, though, you must brush rejection aside like a bad insult. I do know that most successful writers have one thing in common: they’ve overcome rejection numerous times and never let it deter them. We’ve all heard about popular writers who’d been rejected hundreds of times before finally catching a break. Great writing gets rejected every day. If you’ve got talent and desire, and keep sending out your work, you will find a champion somewhere in the publishing world. If you’re good, they will find you. They’ll probably offer you peanuts, but they will find you. That’s okay. It’s not about money, is it? Money would be nice, no doubt, but isn’t your desire to write based on the idea of leaving something creative in your wake? Something that will outlive you? Something an intelligent ape will find a thousand years from now when Planet of the Apes comes true? Something from your soul living on and read over and over ‘til the earth explodes? If you come into this world and leave creativity behind, you’ve done good.
The great news for writers today is, of course, the internet. If you post a story on the ‘net, someone is going to read it. You might get a wonderful comment from a guy named Hulk57 in Montana, or a girl named XenaStalker in Hoboken, and it’ll make your day, knowing there’s someone out there who has read and appreciated your work. I have a love/hate relationship with the internet, as I believe it’s leading to the eventual downfall of real books, but there’s no doubting its power to get a writer’s words to an appreciative audience.
If writing is your passion, and I know it is, you must never stop. Even when you’re on vacation or taking a break for the holidays, always keep your mind actively thinking of what you’ll be writing when you get that keyboard or pen back in your hand. Don’t ever let your brain off the hook. Never stop. Even when they reject you. Especially when they reject you. Because they reject you. Write.