By Russel D McLean
One of the joys of writing has been and will always be the rejection letter.
I know some people will think I’m crazy, but rejection is the very thing that drives a writer to do better. All the best writers have gone through it. Even after they got their break. James Lee Burke went through a long dry spell. He couldn’t “sell ice water in Hades” according to an interview he gave with the writer John Connolly. 14 years of rejection. 111 refusals to show interest in The Lost Get Back Boogie.
But it builds you.
Here’s Burke again:
“Every rejection is incremental payment on your dues that in some way will be translated back into your work.”
Oh, sing that.
Because its true. Rejection makes you look long and hard at yourself and your work. And sometimes you’ll be forced to admit you made a mistake. And other times you’ll realise what’s wrong.
And sometimes you’ll just tough it out.
I talk a lot about my rejection letters. I got a lot down the years. I had one editor forget to reject me until after the collection I’d submitted to came out. One agent sent me an email after 15 minutes to say he was sure I wasn’t going to be for him.
One editor compared my writing to that of that famous playwright Ernie Wise:
My favourite rejection, of course, came shredded through the post, the original manuscript covered with crayon doodles. I looked in vain for a slip to explain what had happened. And then at the bottom of the shredded query letter:
As you can see, my kids didn’t like it either.
Yes. But that’s the point of rejection. It prepares you for many realities of the writing world, including those lovely Amazon/GoodReads reviewers who aren’t going to get what you’re doing. Yes, even after publication some readers are going to reject you. No writer is loved universally. Trust me on this. Even just listening to readers in a bookshop, you begin to wonder why anyone would subject themselves to the judgements of others.
But rejection is good. Listen to that Burke quote again. No one can win all the time. And the more we fail the more determined we become to do better.
I once papered my student bedroom wall with rejection letters. I still have them all in boxes. Every once in a while I look at them.
And yes, even now they get the occasional new friend.
Because no one said this writing gig was easy.
But if you can cope with that side of it, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Rejections are like Tolstoy's unhappy families - each one is unique.
Sure, you can take advice from rejections and try to write the book the editor wanted, or you can tough it out writing the book you want to write. There's not much in between.
And, of course, acceptances are like the happy families, all resembling one another.
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