This past weekend at WriteCamp 3 Milwaukee, a writer asked me what I thought was the most important trait for professional writers. I did not even need to think about my answer: persistence.
Today on Online College, I read a post about famous, much-rejected authors. I already knew that publishers had rejected my favorite childhood book, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, 26 times. Another favorite author, Jasper Fforde, accumulated 76 rejections before The Eyre Affair found a publisher. But that’s not all! James Baldwin, Ursula K. LeGuin, Louisa May Alcott were all rejected! Imagine what our shelves would look like if these fine writers had given up? Pretty bare.
I remember attending a writing conference in California early in my career. A famous and much published writer began his talk by screaming at us: “No, no, no, no!” He then told us that we’d better get used to being rejected, because professional writers get rejected a lot. I don’t know that I believed him. I’d heard too many fairy tales about the undiscovered writer getting plucked out of obscurity and offered a six-figure deal when an editor happened to hear her read at a writing conference. I wanted to believe the fairy tale.
Writers, I can tell you that the fairy tale is a lie. Look into the past of every good writer who is an overnight success, and you will find shitty first drafts and piles of rejection letters. The writers who get their stories, articles and books published do so because they worked hard and did not let a tiny little thing like a rejection letter stop them.
Do not ever see that rejection letter as a stop sign from the universe. Instead, let it remind you that you are a working writer. See if the letter has anything to teach you about your work. Is there a reason the submission did not work for this editor? Would it be better suited to another editor? Could you do something different? Where will you send it next?
Writers, do you have what it takes to be rejected multiple times and continue to write and submit? I hope so. We need to hear your marvelous ideas.
What keeps you going in the midst of rejection? Leave your comments below!