Receiving that Dreaded Email

Like most of you, I find rejection both painful and disorienting. Acceptance is life-giving. You’re ready to call your friends and throw a party. Rejection, on the other hand, can suck the life out of you. It’s easy to turn in and turn away. This, I am learning, is part of the process of getting published. A week ago today, I received the seventh rejection letter for a book proposal I really love.  

I’m really not whining. After all, I have signed a pledge. It happened soon after reading James Scott Bell’s, The Art of War for Writers. He gives a field manual for all “writing wretches,” laying out 77 rules. The seventh decree reads, “Whining Will Not Help You Win the Battle for Publication.” Would-be writers are commanded to sign a statement that includes: “I, ________, being of sound mind and body, do solemnly commit to keep grousing to myself.”  

I’m trying. Really trying to stay faithful to my pledge (even though I have been working on this for a year). Yes, twelve long months! I’ve told only a few how I feel (my wife and my dogs. Brea, my Lakeland Terrier, seems to genuinely sympathize, but Sherlock could care less. It’s in the genetics of Wire Fox Terriers to look at everyone with disdain). It may be that I need to take a break and read Rotten Rejections. It’s a collection of rejection letters from publishers to the authors of books that were afterword best-sellers or literary classics. 

The Nobel Prize winner, R. Kipling, was told by an obscure editor that he did not know how to use the English language. This is comforting. I am guessing most writers have had moments they feel like “tread marks on the underpants of life” (Lamott). 

At some point, I will need the determination and perseverance to come back to my manuscript. Much like my first two books, I will need to be tenacious. But at the moment, there’s a small army of obstacles standing in the way of me and writing. Fear is one. Smallness of faith is another. There is a real temptation to press the delete button and look for a career as a Walmart greeter.  

An invulnerable steadiness needs to take hold. God will do this. He is good at making such repairs. 

Perhaps a strange sympathy needs to also overwhelm me. I need to come alongside my work, much like a pastor comes alongside a patient in a hospital. Especially when more surgery is needed. I will need to take a scalpel and remove any weak verbs, lame adjectives, and vague nouns. I will need to confront my files with hard questions–am I finding my voice? Is this clear and compelling? Is this where people are at? Does this reflect the wisdom that comes from God?  

Here’s one more. Am I using powerful metaphors? There’s a way to describe pride–“like roosters taking credit for the sun rising.” There’s an image that fits contemporary culture’s ability to reflect—“like the long term memory of a fruit fly.” 

Annie Dillard, author of The Writing Life, explains it this way: “I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend. During visiting hours, I enter its room with dread and sympathy for its many disorders. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.”

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