By Vicki H. Moss, Contributing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine
On May 2 on the Suite T blog, I wrote about the children’s writer Madeleine L’engle, author of the children’s book A Wrinkle in Time; how she kept writing after rejections because she couldn’t stop.
Most of you know that A Wrinkle in Time, a young adult novel in the science fantasy genre and first published in 1962, won the Newbery Medal. It also won the Sequoyah Book Award, and Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, and was a runner-up for the Hans Christian Andersen Award. The book also inspired two film adaptations, both by Disney: a 2003 television film directed by John Kent Harrison, and a 2018 theatrical film directed by Ava DuVernay.
But what most people don’t know is that it took Madeleine ten years to sell her manuscript. She kept writing during her perceived failure. “I’m glad I made this decision [to keep writing] in the moment of failure. It’s easy to say you’re a writer when things are going well. When the decision is made in the abyss, then it is quite clear that it is not one’s own decision at all.
“In the moment of failure I knew that the idea of Madeleine, who had to write in order to be, was not image.
“And what about that icon?
“During those difficult years I was very much aware that if I lost my ability to laugh, I wouldn’t be able to write, either. If I started taking myself and my failure too seriously, then the writing would become something that was mine, that I could manipulate, that I could take personal credit—or discredit—for. When a book was rejected, I would allow myself twenty-four hours of private unhappiness. I’m sure I wasn’t as successful in keeping my misery from the family as I tried to be, but I did try.”
Madeleine goes on to say she would take a walk and do her weeping. She could also play games with the children at dinner, but she couldn’t listen to Bach. Unlike Madeleine, I didn’t weep over rejections, nor did I nail my rejections to a timber like Stephen King. I did, however, keep every single rejection in a box and I also kept good records in a three-ring-binder pertaining to where each story was sent and if it sold or not. By keeping good records, I prepared myself for an eventual book sale—and a possible IRS audit. Because one day down the road, I planned on making some sales. Goalzzzzz! Before that day came, I kept myself in a positive frame of mind, and began writing for kids’ magazines to keep me pumped before a book deal.
But if you must weep, go ahead. I’ve found weeping, however, makes me weak. I do better thinking about how many rejections Stephen King had before he made a sale; somewhere in the sixties. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig had 121 rejections. Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield had 144 rejections. Kate DiCamillo had 473 rejections beforeBecause of Winn-Dixie (one of my favorites) was published. Louis L’Amour had 200 rejections before he was finally published.
Feel better now? Just remember, if you must write in order to be—like Madeleine L’Engle—weep if you must over rejections. Go all out on the gloom and despair bit for a few hours. Then get back to work pronto. What helped me was to say, “Yay, I got a rejection letter today! Now only 60 more before I’m up there with Stephen King’s rejection number,” or “200 more rejections until I’m up there with Louis L’Amour’s count!” I actually celebrated those first rejections and continued the countdown. Worked for me. Saved my mascara.
And after 57 rejections, I sold my first story. And *drumroll* bought the family hamburgers that night because it wasn’t enough money to go all the way with cheese. But hey, I still had my first writing paycheck.
I’ll say it again, weep if you must, but only for a time. Because time’s a wastin’. Go ahead and laugh and listen to Bach. While writing. Then send your manuscripts out. Those editors, agents, and publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts are waiting for your masterpiece. It won’t get published unless you 1) send it out, or 2) self-publish. Those are your options. Success won’t happen unless you put yourself out there and embrace a few rejections.