As we hit the halfway point of the year I’m taking stock of where I’m at with my 2017 writing goals. As it turns out, I’m about halfway.
My goal is to have 10 polished picture book manuscripts circulated to various Australian publishers by the end of this year. 6 down, 4 to go. Check.
I have had 3 ‘thanks but no thanks’ letters and 2 ‘almost there, please tweak and resubmit’ responses. Building relationships with a range of publishers. Check.
I’ve completed 5 Kidlit workshops, 1 creative short course and am midway through a mentoring program for picture book writers. Learning as much as I can about my new industry. Check.
I have signed my children up for library cards, in addition to my own, to up my capacity to borrow obscene amounts of picture books. I have tried not to return them late. Read, read, read. Check.
I am roughly where I hoped I would be at this point.
The things I am learning, the materials I am researching, the inspiring authors – aspiring, emerging and established – that I am meeting, the publisher connections I’m making. These are all driving me forward. I’m loving the journey, enjoying it with the quiet certainty that my actions are aligned with my purpose. Writing creatively has always been my way of tapping into a kind of magic. Making room in my life to keep that magic on tap by creating stories for children feels wonderful.
I’m thankful for it all. Even and especially, the rejections.
When I received my first rejection letter, generically worded as it was, I felt…honored. A bit special. Like I’d earned my first Brownie badge. Lost my first tooth. Received my first ‘participation’ medal on sports day. Rejection is a writer’s right of passage, after all. Every author I know and know of has been rejected. Multiple times. I was stoked to join the ranks and comfortable with my rejection count climbing. Each ‘no thanks’ is a step closer to that eventual ‘hell yes!’. I am dedicated to finding the right homes for each of my stories. For every rejection served, I regroup, rethink, research and rally another submission out. A bit like a game of tennis.
My comfort level with rejection may be due to the fact that as a seasoned business writer and creative copywriter, I’m well practiced in taking a client’s critique and coming back with a killer second draft that nails the brief if, for whatever reason, I’ve missed it the first time (or the brief has been changed 732 times in the interim). It may be that I understand that the beauty of a rejection lies in the opportunity to learn from it. Whatever the reason, I’m thankful that I’m ok with rejection. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t love it. I would rather a big fat yes and a fast-tracked publishing contract. But I’m ok with it.
Which is why it surprised me when my son wasn’t.
It was a Tuesday afternoon when I pulled a self-addressed envelope out of the mailbox. I knew exactly what it was. A returned manuscript from a publisher with a ‘thanks but no thanks’ note. My son asked why I wasn’t opening this particular piece of mail and I told him, “Because I already know what’s inside. This publisher didn’t love Mummy’s story enough to want to make it a book, so they’ve sent it back to me.” We went inside, we had a snack, he went off to play with his sister and I started dinner.
10 minutes later he ran up and bear hugged my legs, little chest heaving, not letting go.
I thought he must have hurt himself. Or that his sister had picked a fight. But when he calmed down enough to talk I was floored by what he said.
“Mummy, I am so sorry that the publisher didn’t like your story.”
4. Years. Old. And he was worried that my feelings had been hurt by a pale blue envelope. By someone I had never met saying no to one story I wrote.
I assured him that Mummy is more resilient than that. I explained that I was ok with this no. I told him that sometimes it takes a few tries to get to your goals. And that I’m happy to try as many times as it takes. Because I really want this. I told him that I’m having fun while I’m trying. That the pursuit of my dream is just as enjoyable as my eventual achievements will be.
His reaction carried with it an important lesson for me.
Next time I pull a pale blue envelope out of my mailbox, I’m not going to brush over what it means, leave it sitting unopened until late and night, use it as an excuse to eat too much chocolate in a weak moment and then file it away, never to be seen again.
I’m going to rip that baby open, let my kids decorate it with glitter pens and robot stickers, talk about what it means and stick it to the fridge for everyone to see. I’m going to let them watch me fail as well as succeed on my journey. Because after they see me fail, the next thing they’ll see is me do is try again. With joy.
So here’s to properly celebrating all forms of rejection as the stepping stones to success that they will look like in our revision mirrors. Because of the lessons we learn from them.