Rejection is something that all humans go through. It’s part of life, as they say. Writers are human, and many of us go through rejection after rejection after rejection, until we finally get a rejection that isn’t so painful. You know, a rejection that suggests there is hope out there and that you’re not wasting your time sitting in front of a laptop, typing your life away…
Anyway, in this post, I am going to be talking about a time my writing was rejected. Cue the violins; this one was painful.
I’ve been writing since early 2011, and this event happened in 2013. I had just finished the third revision of my then-current manuscript. I’d decided that I’d done all I could with it for the time being and that I needed a professional pair of eyes to take a look.
I did a Google search and found a whole bunch of developmental editors. Developmental editors, in a nutshell, are people who aim to improve the content and structure of a manuscript by looking at things such as pacing, plot, characterisation, and setting.
Check out a longer piece on what they do here.
I found an editor who looked top notch, and I sent her an email requesting her services. I also uploaded a sample of my work. A day or two later, she responded.
What did she say?
I can’t hear those violins!
Is that what she said?
No, but this is it, the devastating moment if you will. Play!
The editor, very politely, said that she wouldn’t be able to edit my work.
It wasn’t up to the standard she was used to. In addition, she attached a writer’s checklist with her email—basically, a list of things that writers like me should check are in a manuscript before bothering to contact editors. She also said that she might take another look at the manuscript if I made substantial revisions. But I think she was just being nice…
I was in shock. I couldn’t quite believe it.
Like I mentioned before, I’d started writing in 2011, and this happened two years later. During that time, I hadn’t been Sleeping Beauty, snoozing on the job. I had worked hard to get better at this thing called writing. I’d taken part in short online writing courses. I’d read books on writing, including Stephen King’s book, On Writing. I’d written short stories, novelettes, novellas. I’d sent a handful of them to competitions. Although I should add, I never heard anything back from them. I read books, lots of them, inside and outside my preferred writing genre.
I wasn’t a great writer, not even a good one, but I thought my work would at least pass the first stage of editing.
That day, I wept. I was angry with her. How dare she say such things? Did she not know who I was going to become?
And then I got angry with myself. You are a terrible writer. Why did you even bother sending it when it was clear you weren’t any good?
I then slept on it. The following day I was still a mess, but I wanted to make sense of what had gone wrong, so I read through the email again. It still cut me to the core, but the first cut is the deepest, and so it wasn’t nearly as bad as the first read through had been.
I also looked through the checklist—properly this time, not just skimming it. Turned out, it was useful, something I could definitely use in future revisions.
I then returned to the dreaded manuscript and had a read, and whereas before I couldn’t see how else it could be improved (hence why I went seeking professional help), I could see what needed to be done. Suffice it to say, she was right. It wasn’t good enough. I needed to get to work on it pronto.
Pronto never came, as I couldn’t bear to touch that manuscript again. The task seemed insurmountable, so I ditched it and moved onto something shiny and new—starting a new problem of not being able to finish a manuscript, but I’ll leave that for another therapy session blog post.
I did, however, learn a few things from being rejected by that editor. I learned that I had a long way to go. It was possible that this editor was simply way out of my league and that in the hands of somebody a little less golden, my work would have been good enough to edit. Nonetheless, I got to work. I wrote more. I read more—too much, perhaps. Again, another one for the therapy couch.
I wanted to make sure I knew everything I could.
More important, I realised that if after this experience I still wanted to be a writer, then it was something that I really wanted to do. Receiving that rejection hurt, and I knew that it was only the beginning of what was to come on my writing journey.
Failing and then learning from that failure is something I have had to do many times since my initial rejection, and I suspect I will have many more screw ups to look forward to.
I’ll see you next month.