At the tender age of thirteen, a story I’d written and submitted for my school’s esteemed literary magazine was rejected. Not sent back for revision, or deferred for a later edition. Rejected. Having (erroneously so, apparently) imagined myself to be quite the little miss wordsmith, it was humiliating. Especially when Diana B., the girl who loved to torment me, smugly told me that her story had been accepted. Doubly humiliating.
Right now, I’m in the car traveling a couple of hours to spend the weekend with our son whose heart has just been trampled on and shattered into a million pieces by his girlfriend of three years. Rejection, in all its forms, is hurtful, mortifying, debilitating, and humbling. It can also be the best thing that could ever happen to you.
Of course, it’s a lot easier for an older adult to appreciate experience—even bad ones—than it is for a nineteen year old. I’ve already told my son how in my senior year in college my own boyfriend of two years—somebody I’d expected to marry—broke up with me for another medical student with whom he had apparently been studying anatomy. I thought my life was over. Until a few months later when my two sorority sisters set me up for a “Find-A-Date” function with my best friend’s older brother with whom I’d had a crush on since I was sixteen. The date went well, as did subsequent dates, and he and I have been married now for twenty-five years.
Writers are notoriously thin-skinned. Every less-than-stellar review kills me. I’ve been known to focus on the one negative review out of one-hundred. Even obsess over it to the point where I consider cyber-stalking. But that’s another blog and I’m getting help.
I was not an overnight success. My first four books were barely a blip on the radar of publishing. My pitiful advances were indicative of the miniscule print runs and publisher non-support. I was dropped by my second publisher—kicked to the curb. I was like Snoopy receiving a rejection from a publisher along with another rejection letter for anything else he might be thinking of sending to them in the future.
It wasn’t until my fifth book (with a new publisher) that I was given a cover I could actually show to my parents and wasn’t embarrassed to sit behind at a booksigning. It took twelve books before I hit the New York Times extended list, and it wasn’t until I published book number fourteen that I made it into the top twenty. Every time one of my earlier books failed to reach the list was like a little rejection. It hurt. It stung. Many gallons of ice cream were consumed.
Looking back (and hindsight is always 20/20), I now realize that every rejection has made me a better person, and a better writer. I’ve learned a lot about perseverance and patience—qualities I didn’t have when I was younger. And I still might not have unless my heart and my dreams hadn’t spent time crushed beneath the wheels of unrequited love and an industry that can sometimes be indifferent at best. I’ve learned that bumps in the road of life and career are only insurmountable walls if you allow them to be. There is always a way around or over—you just need to be willing to work hard enough to find it. Or you can quit. And my daddy didn’t raise me to be a quitter.
I’m sure my son thinks that all my experiences are moot because I’m old (ancient, really, in his eyes), and that it doesn’t work that way. As much as it pains me I know that I can’t tell him these things, that I can’t be the buffer between him and hurt. I need to step back and allow him to learn from his hurt, be better for it, and be stronger for the road ahead.
That doesn’t mean that we can completely forgive and forget. I’ve long held firm to the belief that the best revenge is success. So is putting people in my novels. If I need a person in one of my books to do a terrible thing or die in an unfortunate way, I have a long list of names I can use. At the top of the list is Diana B. whose smug smile all those years ago forced me to try harder to prove to myself that I could write. So thank you, Diana B. I hope I can find you so I can send you a copy of my latest bestseller. <g>