“A few weeks ago, I received a rejection for my novel-in-progress. Now, I’m celebrating!”
Initially, the rejection caused feelings of despair and hopelessness. I had an epic pity party. I even made my suffering public, sharing my disappointment on social media and inviting followers to join me in wallowing. I was only met with encouragement and forced to “woe is me” alone. (Thanks, friends – smile)
No pity party can last forever, and when mine ended I had to really consider my next steps. After two years, a handful of rejections (all of which included, “we’d love to see the rewrite”) and countless revisions, I had to acknowledge the storytelling in my novel-in-progress just wasn’t working. And that hurt. I had hit “rock bottom” creatively, emotionally, and financially. I would have to start over, rebuilding my bank account and self-esteem.
I’d been “rock bottom” before. It was many years ago so I had to dig up those survival skills. The beautiful thing about recovering from a low point in your life is that, once you’ve done it, you know you can do it again. So I put the novel-in-progress aside for a moment. I dusted off my resume. I told myself, “You jumped. You took a big leap. A brave leap. You lived as an independent creative for two years! Now it’s time to get back to work.”
Deciding to return to the workforce did not mean I was giving up on my dreams of writing. And most certainly, it did not mean I was giving up on my novel-in-progress. Rather, it meant reevaluating my life, how I worked best as a writer, and deciding what I was no longer willing to risk. This rejection was different from the others – it had come to teach me a few things. And I want to share with you what I’ve learned:
1. Be Thankful. No matter your profession, rejection will happen. Whether from an agent, a publisher, or supervisor or colleague, there will always be an opportunity for your work to be critiqued. Have a pity party if you must (I fully believe in wallowing over disappointment – just only for a short time), but afterward, really consider the reviewer’s opinion. It’s often difficult to do this because our work is tied to our emotions. The long hours. The sacrifices we made. To receive a rejection feels personal. But it’s not. If you are a writer and receive a form rejection letter, consider that the agent/publisher might be too busy to devote the time necessary to strengthen your work. And be thankful that you don’t have to work with someone who doesn’t have time to help you. If it’s a personal rejection, be thankful that someone took the time to give you such detailed (free!) feedback. My rejection was personal and, in retrospect, so thoughtful! Even though I was devastated, I immediately responded, “Thank you.” After rereading the rejection several times, it gave me the encouragement and push I needed to approach the narrative from a different perspective.
2. Know Your Limits. I am not the struggling, creative type. In fact, I’m just not the struggling type at all. It doesn’t fuel my creativity. It doesn’t make me a hungry, ferocious writer who will produce her best work under pressure. Nope! Struggling just makes me hungry. Which makes me depressed. Which means I cannot write. In all seriousness, know your limits. I discovered that I work best when I am not dependent on my creativity to provide income. It’s why writing The Truth About Awiti was so freeing. I just wanted to tell the story. I didn’t need to tell the story to eat. And so I am putting myself back into a position where I can create without financial pressure.
3. Plan. But Remember, Your Plan Might Fall Short. When I left my six figure job in October 2015, I had a very respectable savings, a husband with a stable career, and a book deal almost in hand. Almost. I’d planned and thought my decision through repeatedly. I’d even given my employer three months notice. But even the best plans can fall short. Because you cannot plan for all of life’s many contingencies. The book deal that falls apart at the last minute. Your marriage ending. Your savings, which was intended as a buffer, being stretched for two years. If your plan falls short, it’s okay! Just acknowledge it and begin the recovery process sooner rather than later.
4. Don’t Be Afraid To Start Over. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t cried about what I like to call the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” decisions. Oh, what I would have done differently if I had only known! But I didn’t know. So guess what? I am starting over. I recently had a very successful business woman tell me, “You may have to start over many times in life. It’s how you learn. It’s how you grow.” So I am starting over – without fear or shame. This is all just a part of my amazing and unpredictable journey.
5. Share What You Learn. People reach out to me all the time because they are inspired by my story – I am the woman who left her well-paying job to pursue her dreams and passions. It is inspiring, but also risky. And I’ve done my best to share the highs and lows along the way. I would be remiss if I didn’t share with others what I’ve learned, especially the hard truths. Regardless, I have never felt more alive and more certain of my purpose on this earth. And I would have never discovered this had I had not experienced all of the above. There is no shame in sharing what may appear to be defeat or failure – these experiences are lessons. Share what you learn so that you can help someone else on their journey.
So I am celebrating – the rejection, lessons learned, starting over – all of it! I am grateful to experience the fullness of my life and I look forward to the next chapter (pun intended). And guess what? I am currently on a short-list for my dream job at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Fingers crossed! Hopefully, I’ll have exciting news to share soon!