The scourge of rejection licked across my flesh, biting deep into my confidence and self-respect as a writer. I became convinced that my dream was simply a mirage, just a teasing image that tantalized me to walk further into the desert of despair before dematerializing, leaving me alone under the blistering heat of oppression and self-pity.
Yeah, woe was me.
The thing was, I still hadn’t developed the thick skin that a writer needs; that determination to barrel on despite the hurdles and roadblocks that inevitably obstruct one’s literary path. And in truth, the fault was mine. I was the one who finished a first draft and submitted it to agents as if it were a completed project. I was still ignorant of the craft of rewriting and editing, those necessary tools that nip and tuck a manuscript into a finished novel. The flurry of rejection letters soon taught me otherwise.
(Keep in mind that one will more than likely face many rejection letters even if he/she has written the next Great American Novel. Simply an ugly side effect of an antiquated netting system established long ago by traditional publishing that needs a serious update.)
I took a long break from writing to recover from the trauma of rejection, convinced that writing was not to be my destiny after all. Back to the sludge of work, daily activities, routine yadda yadda. Inspiration would burrow from the debris of neglected ideas, only to be ruthlessly crushed by the weight of my colossal indifference. I simply did not have to passion to continue banging my head against the Great Wall of publishing.
Then one day a letter arrives in the mail. (Yes, rejection letters were still actually ‘letters’ back then.) I wish I still had that letter, because I can’t remember which publisher sent it. (One of Penguin’s branch companies I believe, though I can’t be sure.) I opened it without the slightest measure of excitement, knowing that another rejection lay inside. I read the letter, pretty sure it was a carbon copy of the other letters I’d already received from other publishers.
Sure, it was a rejection letter. But this one was personalized. Someone, probably an intern with the unfortunate job of reading part of the enormous slush pile, had actually made a few remarks in addition to the normal rejection. The person pointed out that the story was too long, the characters too stock, and a couple of other things that needed improvement. But my mind highlighted only three words: “writer shows promise.”
Writer. Shows. Promise.
Words are powerful. Words can build up and tear down. Words can ruin careers and topple empires. Words can turn sinners into saints, and vice versa. Words can create worlds and pull readers into events seemingly more real than reality.
And in this case, three words may have saved a young writer’s career. I felt a spark of hope flicker in my chest, a tiny glimmering ray of light illuminating a dream that I had locked away in the dungeon of broken dreams. I dusted off my manuscript. Read through it. Found immediate flaws that needed attention:
The three main male characters were too much alike, practically three versions of the same person. The main female character was weak and simpering, simply placed as a love interest/damsel in distress. The opposing race of powerful beings were too much like standard vampires, not original in any way. And so on and so forth, so many details that needed improvement. And of course the story itself needed much attention: massive editing and rewriting to shape it into something worth paying attention to.
I had a mountain of work ahead of me. Much more than I anticipated, in fact. But I didn’t mind. The creative fires were burning, stoked by new ideas and inspiration. I was ready to dive into the roiling waters of speculative writing once again, unafraid of future rejections or whatever the future might hold.
Because after all, writer shows promise.