“I got a rejection letter from an editor at HarperCollins, who included a report from his professional reader… As I read the report, the world became very quiet and stopped rotating. What poisoned me was the fact that the report’s criticisms were all absolutely true. The sound of my landlady digging in the garden got the world moving again. I slipped the letter into the trash…knowing I’d remember every word.” – David Mitchell, British author with two novels shortlisted for the Booker Prize
“Rejections slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil – but there is no way around them.” – Isaac Asimov
On January 11, the feedback on my novel, for which I’d been waiting a month, arrived. The accompanying letter began innocently: “There are many wonderful things about the manuscript you have created. The era, the exotic location, the big issues (religion, faith, children, family, culture), and characters with enormous obstacles all provide the basis for a very dynamic novel.
It ended with a more dispiriting conclusion. “To that end, I want to give you the strongest tools available for digging into the rewrites. That means I’m going to suggest what may feel like major changes. Keep in mind it’s not just that a person has to write well, they also have to write engaging [sic].”
Fourteen pages of comments later, everything she suggested did feel like a major change, and I didn’t know how to respond except by feeling a huge letdown. I’d been working on this novel for so long and suddenly I felt humiliated, that I’d wasted years of study and work and should have put my retirement to better use. Worse than the disappointment was the thought of facing a complete rewrite.
Friends were consoling and reassuring: “You’re a good writer.” “I like your story.” But the comments couldn’t make up for the critique.
The good thing about receiving disappointing news is that although the words might stick with me, the initial feelings–the tight chest and sense of hopelessness–faded. I got over my disappointment, first by recognizing the truth of what the editor said. Then, I stopped castigating myself for having spent the time writing. The pandemic has kept me and everyone else indoors for nearly a year and my activity choices were to write or clean out closets. At least I’ve been engaging my brain.
In 2015, Psychology Today reported on “8 Ways to Bounce Back from Disappointment.” Tip number eight was, “Find your grit.” It’s difficult to keep showing up, but by doing so, you will gain respect from others and feel better about yourself.”
I am showing up and paying attention to the feedback, starting with chapter one. Last week, I received a critique from my writers’ group with responses that confirmed I had learned something from the editor’s critique. One person said my protagonist was “coming alive.” Another said, “Held my attention throughout. Not a boring word anywhere.” A third said, “I really liked the sense/feel of the scene!””
Positive feedback won’t always be this good and negative feedback won’t always be helpful. So it goes when you’re dealing with “not quite inventions of the devil.”
In a recent issue of “The New Yorker,” writer Margaret Talbot reviewed three related books* that argue for “the value of learning to do things you’ll never do well.” Not only is trying something new an “antidote to perfectionism,” but it is good for our brains. The only negative effect associated with trying something new … Continue reading
After a week that involved a colonoscopy and the horror of a president aiding and abetting destruction in the nation’s capital, what could I possibly write about? In anticipation of my medical procedure, a friend encouraged me to write a humor piece about that, but now that it’s over, humor fails me, as does finding … Continue reading
In my last blog, I reported on assorted “gifts” received during the first twelve days of Christmas. Since then, twelve more days have passed. Still no partridge in a pear tree, but much more to report. On day thirteen, I awoke with a scratchy throat, diagnosed my illness as Covid-19 and positioned my fingers to … Continue reading