When I signed up to go on my first ever writer’s retreat, I expected to do some writing. And I did. But what I ultimately got out of the experience was a whole lot more.
The retreat was held at Punderson Manor in Newbury, Ohio. I arrived in the pitch dark on a Friday night and drove around in what appeared to be an abandoned golf course. I might still be out there now if it weren’t
Our cute cabin and plotting headquarters.
for a quick call to my roommate, Cathy, who kindly offered to drive out and show me the way. Five minutes later, I had pulled in front of the lodge, which is old and rumored to be haunted. I checked in and then drove to our clean and rustic cabin, where I met my other roommate, Joyce, who helped me get settled.
After a quick dinner, we joined the rest of our group back at the manor house for a ghost tour. While I’m happy to report we didn’t see any ghosts, Frank the bartender and sometimes tour guide, showed us the premises, and did his best to frighten us. We peered into corners, listened for the sounds of spirit children, and took pictures of the winding staircase where guests claim to see a ghostly cat.
My roomies Joyce and Cathy.
Eventually, we wandered back to our cabins and that’s when the real fun began. As a new fiction writer, I often feel alone on the challenging journey to becoming a published author. I agonize over story ideas and worry about boring my poor husband and friends who have to listen to endless character discussions and chapter readings. So just imagine the delight of being able to analyze plot lines for hours on end with other writers who are intimate with this particular struggle.
By the end of the weekend, we had dissected, analyzed, plotted and reinvented two of my stories. And let me tell you, these girls are good. Within minutes of me reading a short excerpt of the first chapter, they had fleshed out the goals, motivations and conflicts for all the main characters.
Also, I did manage to write 2,000 words of Cross Waves. So, all in all, a lovely and productive weekend. Now if only the ghost cat had turned up in one of my photos.
I stay up late most nights to do my writing. At 1 a.m. the house is quiet, and I can think uninterrupted. But even in the wee hours, I sometimes procrastinate. Like yesterday. On that particular day, YouTube was the distracting culprit.
Enter Taylor Swift
I was looking for a song about moms that I might be able to use as the ringtone for my heroine’s mother. After a quick search, I found myself listening to a tune by Taylor Swift called, “The Best Day.” Take a listen if you haven’t heard this one. It’s sweet with video clips of Taylor’s mother holding her as a child. I watched it twice–it was that entertaining. But just before I clicked out, I happened to notice that the song had received more than one thousand downward thumbs. It was hard for me to imagine that anyone could give this tender song a thumbs down. Really? What’s not to like?
That got me thinking about rejection.
As writers–and really every artist–we must stomach a LOT of rejection. It goes with the territory. It doesn’t matter who you are or how far you’ve come, someone out there won’t like you or appreciate your work. Guaranteed.
Although my manuscript was only completed six months ago, I have had to swallow a large dose of rejection. Where does it come from? Agents who receive my pitches, editors who I meet at conferences, other writers who critique my contest entries, my husband who reads everything I write and gives me honest feedback, and even my children, who want me to skip the romance and finish the young adult novel I started ages ago and never finished.
And yet, it is the one aspect of writing that I can count on. I screw up my courage to present my work to the world, only to have my hopes dashed–over and over again. Since I finished my first manuscript in April and began the search for a publisher, ninety-nine percent of the feedback I have received has been rejection. But did you know that even rejection has a learning curve? That’s right. It goes something like this:
Phase 1: The Impersonal Rejection: These are impersonal and mechanical email responses, generally consisting of a standard form message. Here’s a sample (in case you haven’t had the pleasure of getting one):
“Thank you very much for sending your query and for offering me the chance to review your material. I’m sorry to state that I will not be asking to represent your manuscript. It is crucial to find an agent who will represent you to the best of his or her ability, and your project did not seem like a good fit for me.
Please understand that this is a subjective industry, and what does not work for one agent or publisher may in fact work well for another. Although I cannot recommend someone specific, I encourage you to continue seeking out representation elsewhere. Should the occasion arise to submit a new project for consideration, please feel free to contact me again.”
Phase 2: The Personal Rejection: Later, after some revisions, more personal rejections began landing in my inbox:
“Thank you very much for the opportunity to consider the opening chapters of MIND WAVES.
Thank you again for the opportunity to read your work. I wish you the best of success with this and with all your writing, and I would enjoy seeing new queries from you when I’m open again to queries.”
Phase 3: Pointed Rejection: For me, this type of rejection has come from editors or contest judges who read a small portion of the manuscript and have specific negative feedback they want to convey. In some cases, there are suggestions for improvement, but often, they just don’t like it:
“The dialogue is a significant weakness. It felt wooden and unnatural.”
“There was far too much telling and not enough showing. Much of the narrative is clunky and unnecessary.”
So, how to deal with it?
The trick is to read the comment, question its validity (which takes honesty), and then if it really doesn’t mesh with what you know to be true, toss it off and don’t look back. But if in your heart you know the criticism is valid, then use it to learn. If you follow this mantra, soon you’ll notice changes in the criticism you receive.
At least that’s what happened to me. After spending the first six months incorporating feedback, I reached a point when I noticed the number of rejections dropping. Instead, I began receiving prompt responses–please send the full manuscript. One editor went as far as to ask me to let them know right away if someone else had offered a publishing contract. And check out this recent feedback from a contest judge:
“I definitely want to read this once it’s published. This story is engaging and leaves me wanting more. I’ve made note of the title so I can watch for it. It takes nerves of steel to toss our “babies” out to be judged, and I am honored to have read yours.”
These are positive signs that I am getting closer to a publishing contract and to seeing my book on a bookstore shelf. But if I would have ignored those initial rejections and comments, I would have learned nothing and still be back in rejection central, waiting and wondering.
When the day comes
And when I finally publish the book? Will that be the end of rejection? I suspect not. Just like Taylor Swift, I am sure there will be those who still don’t like the book. I just hope there are thousands more that do!