I just wanted to get a few thoughts down on falling in love with your work and on the rejection that inevitably comes. In 2018, I started querying a novel that was written out of grief for the climate crisis and the 2016 election. As you might expect, I loved that novel and those characters because they helped me write through not only those tough years but survive the end of an emotionally rough MFA program.
And as you can guess, the novel wasn’t picked up by an agent. Sure, that’s the publishing game, I told myself. Doesn’t mean it won’t get published some day, and I did my best to learn from that novel, choosing to write something more commercial than my weird contemporary fantasy that seemed pretty unsellable as a debut the more distance I put between myself and the novel. Hard thing is, I still love those characters. They still speak to me, even though I’ve shelved the novel.
End of 2018 and over 2019, I wrote another novel–quick and dirty and commercial (at least by my standards). I’m still in the query trenches with that one, but as the rejections come in, they hurt.
I pride myself on being tough, having thick skin. My favorite story to tell is how I broke 45% of the weight bearing surface of my foot and walked it off for eight weeks, even climbing ten miles up what passes for a mountain in Pennsylvania. My mentor’s idea of a compliment on my writing was “good” scrawled at the bottom of a story. When it comes to rejection, I can let it roll off.
But so far in 2020, it feels like I’ve been in the ring a little too long. I can let the rejections roll off, but they hurt a little more, like pressing a thumb into a bruise. I wonder if it’s because I’ve sunk my life into creative writing and academia, two worlds that have more rejection than success. Per many US millennials, I don’t have hobbies other than writing, which is more of a hopeful career path, so somedays, I get the sucker punch of rejection of a story and of scholarship/essay/abstract/whatever from academia.
Hopefully this doesn’t read like complaining. I don’t intend it to. Sending out work and getting rejections is a practice, a habit necessary to being a career writer. But, someday, is it going to break my brain? I was talking to a good friend and he said something to the effect, we can say it doesn’t bother us, but what about when it does?
Right now, I’m struggling with falling in love with a story, a character, a place and then sending the work out to only shelve it a year or two later. I don’t know how many more times I can do that. How do we balance having the passion to write a whole novel not only to then revise it, workshop it, query it, send out full manuscripts, and then put it away–over and over again? Do I have to stop loving the work? But then how do I complete the work? I don’t think I could write a novel without loving it.
For now, I’m going to take a break. I knew this novel would be the last one I could write while also working toward the dissertation, even though the next novel is already whispering to me. Once I send out my fortieth query, I intend to stop sending out all work for awhile, and just focus on writing short stories and my dissertation. I need to heal up for a bit before I climb back into the ring.