I’ve been comforted, lately, by a few other bloggers who seem to be experiencing more than their share of rejection from literary agents. The Daily Rejection is built around this recurring motif, and JB, like many writers, wonders when she will reach the “breaking point at which one accepts defeat.” This is a familiar question, and when I ask it of myself, I try to remember to give this answer.
Carly might be OK.
Of course, that exact answer only works for me, but I think that any writer—any human, really—can come up with a similar answer for themselves. Let me explain.
I am anything but an optimist. When things go wrong, I spend hours of my time identifying and inventing all of the worst possible scenarios that could have caused the problem. I sometimes go to extremes to plug the holes that friends and family punch into my outlandish theories. A rarely recognized truth is that pessimism, in small doses, can serve us well: it motivates me to take preventative action against problems that haven’t yet occurred.
The problem with pessimism is when we apply it to problems that have already occurred, like a rejected manuscript… and that’s where Carly comes in.
When I was teaching, Carly and her brother were ‘in my care.’ In other words, they were assigned to my homeroom, which made me the first teacher responsible for looking out for their welfare. This was manageable enough on a typical day—ensuring their timetables were up-to-date and their uniforms in good repair was no problem—but fate tempted my pessimism the day that Carly returned to school after a serious car accident.
At age seventeen, Carly had been driving, and her own injuries were the furthest thing from her mind. She was worried—terrified, in fact—that her passenger might not recover. She was worried that her driving might have seriously injured a friend. Or worse.
This was a burden much heavier than a rejected novel, and she was far too young to carry it.
Carly had developed a pessimism in response to this tragedy, and she wore it like a tortoise wears his shell. Thus ensconced, she deflected all the usual reassurances: words from classmates and teachers, that her friend would ‘be OK,’ just rolled away into the currents of life around her. She was inconsolable.
It was, ironically, my lifetime pass to the Pessimist’s Club that allowed me to see what Carly needed. She wasn’t going to listen until someone acknowledged that her driving might have endangered her friend’s life: so, I did. I acknowledged that, but I also told her that if she accepted that possibility, she needed to accept the equal possibility that her driving had saved her friend’s life. Her friend might have her to thank for being in a hospital instead of a morgue.
Carly listened. For a moment, Carly was OK.
So, here is a case study in possibilities. When an agent rejects our manuscript, it is possible that our writing is terrible: that our ideas are derivative, our choice of prose is boring, or the concept of a bowling team saving America will just never work. Denying our inner pessimist will risk stopping us from improving future submissions. If we accept those possibilities, though, then we must accept the equal possibilities that the agent is the wrong age to appreciate our idea, that the agent prefers televised fiction to prose, or that the agent, as I once proved in this post, was too busy to even know I hadn’t queried him. Come up with your own “might” statement to tell yourself, from your own experience. Use it as a mantra to help you submit again.
Oddly, I don’t remember what happened to Carly’s friend. I don’t even know where Carly has been for years.
But I like to think that she might be OK.
To my dozen and dozen of followers, I apologize for the long absence. Blogging is getting me down; more on that next time. In the meantime, check in Friday at Cow Pasture Chronicles for a sample of my prose.