I work in a profession that requires thick skin. I put my heart out there, tapping each beat to the rhythm of my keyboard, and I hand it to a friend, an editor, the world via a blog post, and then I wait for the feedback.
I learned to accept criticism in college. My senior year, the class Writing for the Popular Market would be the training ground for giving and accepting constructive criticism.
That was also the year that I began to associate editing with coffee. But that’s a different topic for a different day.
Once a week, my classmates and I, along with our professor, sat in a circle in the local coffee shop, or on the couches in the room above The Sub, and we’d dutifully hand the ten pages we’d written in our novels that week to the person sitting just to the right.
Then we’d sit back, sip our coffee, and read one another’s words.
There were only six of us in the class, and by the end of the year, we each had a completed manuscript. This would be the first draft of my novel. It was the beginning of learning to communicate through story.
I’m grateful for the lessons learned in that small class. I’m glad I learned to hear someone criticize what I wrote, and not take it personally. It’s a necessary skill, and it’s one that’s served me well over the last fifteen years since I graduated.
When I shared the news that my novel would be published last week, I received so many wonderful, encouraging messages and comments from all of you. And I cried a lot as I read through them, because fifteen years of waiting and dreaming of seeing this book published suddenly took a realistic turn.
I received a lot of rejection letters for the various drafts of my novel. For a long time, I kept every rejection letter I received. After reading Stephen King’s book, On Writing, the notion of a stack of rejection slips seemed almost romantic.
See, when I started the process of trying to get my book published (an earlier version of it that is nothing like the one coming out next spring), I did it the old school way. I mailed letters – actual letters written on paper.
I sent query after query in the mail, along with book proposals and sample chapters. And I included in each stamped envelope, a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE) for the publishers to send me his response…which was usually a big, fat no.
Every once in awhile, though, there would be a glimmer of hope. A note, scratched at the bottom of a form letter from the editor encouraging me to keep writing.
Those rejection slips went to the top of the pile.
I tossed the folder of rejection slips when we moved, because I was over the romanticism of it all by then. And the world had moved on to email, so now I had the privilege of receiving electronic form letters, and that felt a little less nostalgic. I wish now, though, that I had that stack of “No’s”
Because I’d love to see it dwarfed next to the contract that says “Yes.”
I haven’t really minded all the rejection, if I’m honest. I’ve been impatient at times, of course. And there were days when I’d feel terribly discouraged over it all. But in all the years of waiting and hoping, it never occurred to me that I should give up on the book.
There are some stories that just get under your skin, and this story that I’ve written is one of them. The characters crawled into my very being, and I knew that someday I’d see them really come to life in print.
So I waited, and I pushed, and I simply refused to take no for an answer.
If you’re in a place where “No” is the only word you’re hearing, can I just urge you not to give up? Sometimes you have to wade through a whole lot of “No” to get to “Yes.”
And when that happens, you’ll find that the “Yes” is so much sweeter after the waiting.
“Are you excited?”
His voice reached through the phone pressed to my ear and I took a breath to give the expected response, then stopped. Tears pricked the corners of my eyes, and I felt the wind sort of escape in a small sigh.
“I don’t know,” I said, voice trembling slightly.
A month ago, I signed my first contract with a literary agent. For over a decade, I have been trying, without success, to secure a literary agent. It is a very big step toward my dream of publication – this is what I’ve been waiting for, what I’ve wanted to do since I was a teenager.
I should be excited.
I am excited.
But I’ve lost momentum.
When I began blogging seven years ago, I had no idea where that journey would take me. Very early on I came across one of the Compassion Blogging trips, and as I read through those posts I felt a deep longing for my words to matter. As much as I loved chronicling the humorous moments of mom-life, I knew I wanted my site to become more.
I very prayerfully began chasing that heart desire, and in 2012, the Lord answered my prayer and I was invited to go to Tanzania with Compassion International. I didn’t know that trip would change everything.
It was the catalyst that led Lee and I to finally commit to adoption – an adoption that would be terminated.
I would walk through a year of grieving and heartache, and I couldn’t find my footing in the blogosphere anymore. I had accomplished my goal, and while writing has always been an outlet, at that point in time I found more solace in working on my novel, because blogging began to feel too painful. I was so very raw in those days, and I felt exposed online.
It’s been such a journey these last two and a half years. And now here I am, on the cusp of seeing another dream realized, and I find myself wildly overwhelmed.
If it weren’t for my husband, I think I would have given up a long time ago, because this process of doing what I love hasn’t been easy. Success, however you may measure it, hasn’t fallen in my lap. I’ve worked for it – I’ve worked really hard, and I have a stack of rejection letters to prove that what I do isn’t for the faint of heart.
Maybe I shouldn’t have kept the rejection letters. Maybe the folder full of “No” is a little bit of a downer, but it does make the “Yes” a little sweeter. And inside that folder full of “No” are little glimmers of hope. Editors who took the time to write me a personal note on their typical form letter response.
“Love the concept, and the writing is beautiful, but it’s not a good fit for us.”
“Keep working on this. You have the beginnings of something really special, but it’s not there yet.”
When I got those notes, I placed them on top of the stack of rejections to remind myself that I really can do this writing thing. Because the truth is, when you fight for something for so long, and you are constantly pushed backward, you start to question whether or not you’re cut out for this gig.
But now, there is someone else out there who believes in me. An agent who believes me capable of telling the stories I long to tell. I have a writing partner who, like my husband, has always been my cheerleader, and she’s right beside me in this new journey. She’s helping shape a message that the Lord placed on both of our hearts so many years ago.
I’m overwhelmed by it all. This is where the real work starts, and there’s a small part of me that is just scared. I’m afraid to get too excited. I’m intimidated by the need to gain blogging momentum again – to rebuild a platform in an already saturated market.
And that ever present nag that tells me I might not be good enough to pull this off likes to prick at my ears in the quiet moments when I’m most vulnerable.
Dream chasing is hard. It will always involve rejection. There are so many “No’s” that make up a “Yes.” And we’re all prone to look to our left and our right, and to see the people who are doing the things we want to do and assume that the success just fell in their laps. But 9 times out of 10, that’s not the case.
They worked hard for it, too.
If you’re chasing a dream right now, and you feel overwhelmed by it all, can I urge you not to give up? Don’t look at the “No’s” as a finality, but as the stacking point for the great big “Yes” waiting in the wings.
Maybe it won’t look like you thought it would, and maybe it will be more work than you assumed, but at the end of the day your dream matters, and the tenacity with which you’re willing to run after it will be the tipping point between excellence and mediocrity.
Let’s be excellent together.