Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
These words by Samuel Beckett have meaning for authors at every stage of their profession, be it emerging, mid-career or established writers like myself.
People often want to know what I find most difficult about writing a novel and seven books into my writing career, my answer to this question remains the same. I revel in the research, find joy in tapping out the first draft and dive into the second and even third drafts with enthusiasm. It’s only when my novel is finished and I’ve deemed it ready to send out to publishers that my stress level rockets. Will it be stuck at the bottom of a slush pile for months? Worse, what if the acquisitions editor reads it and doesn’t like it. In other words, how will I handle the inevitable rejection that every writer must face again and again while maintaining the optimism necessary to keep on trying?
Recently, I received a long and detailed rejection letter from a prestigious Canadian publisher, which gutted me to the point that I had a friend read it first and summarize the main points of why my book had been rejected. Even though the letter was encouraging and full of praise, I was left with a sense of shame at my obvious failure to write an engaging story that would appeal to teens everywhere.
This sense of shame stayed with me for months. I allowed it to paralyze my creativity and found myself unable to write a single word. I felt indignant, humiliated and angry. Worst of all, I felt inadequate as a writer. One day, weeks after I received that rejection letter, my son asked me if I’d heard back from the publisher. I mumbled that I had, but that it had been bad news. “They hate the book,” I lamented, grossly overstating the truth.
He gave me a puzzled look. After all, this wasn’t the first rejection letter he’d seen me receive and it wouldn’t be the last. “So, did you send it out to another publishing house?”
“Not yet,” I replied. “I hate failing and I’m having problems coming to terms with it.”
“But you always say that ‘success is not possible without failure. That the only way to avoid failing is to not try.’
I thought about his words overnight. I’ve often told writing students exactly that. After a stern self-talk, I choked down my self-pity and sent out multiple submissions. I haven’t heard back from anyone yet, but I’ve regained my confidence. I know I am a good writer. I just let my ego take over and I forgot Beckett’s words.
Thank Goodness there was someone there to remind me of them.
When Scarlett Van Dijk asked me to write a column for her blog, I agreed reluctantly, convinced that I had little advice to give to others struggling to launch their writing careers. For weeks I felt like a fraud so I didn’t write anything. It was only after that conversation with my son that I realized I had something really important to say. I thought about Stephen King and his multiple rejections. I remembered other successful writers who had experienced rejection; William Golding, John Le Carre, J.K. Rowling and Tony Hillerman to name just a few.
If you are a writer, the odds are good that you too will experience the pain of a publisher not liking your work. If you are just a want-to-be, you never will, but nor will you know the joy of holding your newly printed novel your hands, or taking it off a shelf in your local bookstore.
So, it’ my turn to pay it forward and to pass on this most valuable of advice: Keep trying until you succeed. I promise you, it’s worth it in the end.
About Julie Burtinshaw
Julie was born in Vancouver and has lived in many different cities and towns both in and out of Canada. Julie is an award winning author of six books for young adults. Her fifth novel, The Perfect Cut,is included in the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, Best Books for Teens 2009 list, and was nominated for the prestigious Ontario White Pine Award. She has read and facilitated writer’s workshops in high schools across Canada (BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario) where her highly interactive and lively workshops have helped to foster a love of both reading and writing to young adults and adults everywhere.
She is an active blogger and has judged many celebrated writing contests, including the 2008, BC Book Awards. In 2011 she was selected as a judge for the Red Cedar Award (BC), as well as the2011 and 2012 Mate E. Palmer Professional Communicators Contest of the Illinois Women’s Press Association (IWPA).
The Darkness Between the Stars, Fiction, McKellar Martin, Vancouver, BC, 2011
The Perfect Cut, Young Adult Fiction, Raincoast Books, Vancouver, BC, 2008 (308 pages)
The Freedom of Jenny, Young Adult Historical Fiction Raincoast Books, Vancouver, BC, 2005 (186 pages)
Romantic Ghost Stories, Adult Short Stories, Lone Pine Publishing, Edmonton, Alberta, 2004 (224 pages)
Adrift, Young Adult Fiction, Raincoast Books, Vancouver, BC, 2002 (163 pages)
Dead Reckoning, Young Adult Historical Fiction, Raincoast Books, Vancouver, BC, 2000 (119 pages)
A Writer's Tale
Scarlett Van Dijk
Writer of young adult, fantasy series, the Sky Stone series, poetry and short stories.
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