I guess I should wrap up this rejection thing with the promised Part 2 of the post. As I said, I’ve gotten a few rejections recently along this road to seeking an agent, and they’ve caused me to reflect on the role that rejection plays in the writing life.
I really do believe that the process of submitting things and getting them rejected can force you to become a better, more careful, more thorough writer. I also believe, on some level, that it really does help you Grow As A Human Being. As do rejection, effort and failure in all areas of life, not just writing. But let’s focus on writing.
Oh, wait, let’s detour into religion. I’ve blogged in the past about the fact that, as a Christian, I try to learn about and sometimes learn from other religious traditions. And in reading about Buddhism, I’ve tried to wrap my mind around the concept of detachment and whether I can learn anything from it that’s useful to me. Letting go of my desires for what I want and accepting what is, never seems more real to me than when I’m waiting to hear the fate of a book I’ve submitted to a publisher or an agent.
Really, you don’t have to go study Buddhism to get this. It’s right there in the good old Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
When I’m writing, there are things I can change, things over which I have control. I can choose what I want to write, and then write it as well as I can. I can give it to people to critique and I can revise based on the critique I get. I can take the time and care to go over every word, every line, every turn of phrase, to make sure it’s as good as I can get it.
Then I can choose where to submit it. I can research publishers, or agents if that’s the route I’m going, and find what I hope will be the best possible home for it. I can labour and slave over a query letter that’s short, catchy and sums up my story in the most appealing way possible. I can rewrite that query four or five times till I think it does the perfect job of pitching my story.
Then (this is a big one, for some writers) I can actually send it out. Instead of sitting around dreaming about the book I might publish, I can take a chance and put it out there in the world.
The “things I can change” pretty much end there.
Because once it’s out there, I lose control of what happens. No matter how well I have written the story, or the query letter pitching it, I cannot control what happens when it hits an editor’s desk, or when an agent opens her inbox to see my query. How the person who reads it is going to react, what other projects they have on their desk at the moment, their tastes and priorities — those are things over which I have no control.
And — this is a tough one — unless I choose to self-publish, I have no control over whether the project will eventually get published or not. I can do everything within my power to guarantee its success, I can be persistent and keep putting it out there, but eventually, for this to happen, someone other than me has to make a decision over which I have no control.
For a control freak like me, that’s a big hurdle.
Believing that there’s a cosmic wisdom behind whether or not things get published may be a little difficult, given some of what we see on the bestseller lists. But at the very least, as writers, we have to accept that some things are out of our hands. And I think that, while painful, this is great practice for all kinds of things in life, like parenting and loving people and trying to do some good in the world — all things which matter even more than writing. The basic lesson, for me, always comes down to: there are things I can do, and I’m called to do them as best as I can. But ultimate outcomes are beyond my control. I just have to do my best, let go, and have faith.
There’s no better practice for that kind of “detachment” than writing and polishing a manuscript and sending it out into the world. A rejection now and then reminds me that while I’m doing the best I can, I don’t control the outcomes. Things won’t always go my way … but I have to keep faithfully plugging away at it, writing my best, living my best, trusting God, and trying not to obsess about the things I cannot change.