Friday, August 7, 2015

On Trying, Rejection, and Acceptance

“I love my rejection slips. They let me know I try.” –Sylvia Plath

And I love reading this quote, because it lets me know that even writers who are read and respected, whose works are taught, faced rejection at some point in their careers.

I am blessed, no doubt about it. My children remind me of that every day with their beautiful smiles, sweet voices, loving hugs and their delight in even the simplest of things. I have a husband I love and who loves me, too. We live in a home that keeps us warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Our children are able to go to a good school with good teachers and friends. And we’re attending a church where we learn and get meaning every week.

But, as a writer, I have definitely faced my share of rejection and disappointment. I suppose I’ve always known I was going to write, but I didn’t know how hard it was going to be to get my works out there in the world until the age of 22, when I graduated college with a degree in English and hundreds of words of praise from professors, students, friends, and family. I was going to be a writer. I knew it. There was no doubt in mind. I’d been writing for years at that point and loved it. It was my calling. So, I went out and bought a copy of Writer’s Market, read it cover to cover, began highlighting publishers and literary agents I thought would be a good fit for the book I’d just finished writing, spent weeks on a cover letter until I thought it was in decent shape, and then worked up the nerve to actually send it to agents. I’ll never forget the feeling I got when I actually heard back from one. “Wow! It reached them! They actually read it!” My stomach did somersaults and my hands shook while I opened the letter. At first I couldn’t focus on the words but when I did, I caught phrases like, “You obviously spent a lot of time on your letter and your story . . . we appreciate your interest in working with us . . . we feel this story just isn’t right for us . . .”

After the initial heart-sinking feeling passed over, I thought, Okay, that’s okay. Lots of writers face this. On to the next agent/publisher.

I told myself this at the time, though I didn’t believe it. I thought I did, but as the rejection slips, forms, and emails accumulated over the span of several years, I began to doubt myself. But I kept on doing it, through graduate school, through the start of my career as an adjunct instructor, through getting married and having my son.  I continued because something inside me had to. I’d kept up with my writing, still loved doing it and knew, just like Stevie Nicks did when she was considering going back to school instead of pursuing music that even if she did decide to do something else professionally she’d always have her writing and would always do it. And so, finally, in December of 2012, I received the following email from an online journal I’d submitted a story to:

“Thank you for your recent submission, "The Only One." I'm pleased to announce that we'd like to publish it . . .”

I had to read it several times before I believed it. They liked it? They wanted it? I was actually going to see my work published for the whole world? After years of hearing phrases like, “This story just isn’t right for us, yada yada yada,” I was in a state of shock for a while and remained there until I saw the publication with my own eyes:

I’d done it! After years of submitting and waiting and nail-biting and disappointment, I’d done it! I was on my way, surely! It rejuvenated my energy to keep submitting my books (I’d written three at this point, two of which I thought were good enough to put out there) to agents and publishers. I re-worked my cover letters and synopses of each, did countless hours of research on publishers and agents, and dutifully began clicking the “send” button on my email account, sending my hopes and dreams of seeing my work out there in the world onto the virtual desks of people who could make it happen. Surely, this publication was a sign that it was going to happen very soon, right?

Well, more waiting. More nail-biting. Tumbleweeds and dust began dancing across the path ahead. Then, a ding from my i-phone signifying a new email: “Unfortunately, after careful consideration of your manuscript, we have determined that it does not fit our needs.”

Yeah, back to square one. Only this time, after reading those same words I’d read so many times before, they didn’t sting quite so much. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I shrugged it off, revisited my list of publishers, sent off another letter and synopsis. I kept doing that throughout the next couple of years, this time throughout two devastating miscarriages, throughout so many desperately hoped-for/applied-for/interviewed-for job promotions I watched others get, throughout the birth of my lovely baby girl. And I felt the same about my rejections. I didn’t delete them, can’t say I loved them the way Plath did hers, but they didn’t give me the heart-sinking feeling they once did. Something was happening all right, something that I thought I knew before. All writers go through this. I was accepting that. I was okay with it. And, cliché as it may sound, at least I was trying. I was still doing what I loved to do. And that mattered to me.

Then, in November of 2014, after thirteen years of trying and waiting, an email arrived like an early Christmas present:

“Dear Tanya,

Thank you for submitting your manuscript, The Good Thief, to Black Opal Books. I’m delighted with it. I think it would make an excellent addition to our titles and would like to offer you a contract to publish it . . .”

I showed it to my husband, my mom, my dad. I emailed it to two of my writing professors whose opinions I value and respect. Even after their confirmations and words of congratulations and pride, I still didn’t believe it. My book, that little creation I had spent so long writing and editing, tearing apart and nurturing back again had been accepted. And now, moving through the stages of editing at this great little publisher giving me my chance, it will soon see the light of day and the masses will soon see it, offer their opinions. It’s a reality that I’ve laughed about, cried happily about, and still, sometimes can’t wrap my head about. But, it’s happening. An acceptance, a validation of everything I’ve been working on for all these years. And no matter what happens from here on out, it’s something I will always have, just like writing is something I will always love.

The frustrations I mentioned in my professional life have worked to help me lose sight of this beautiful promise in my life.  And so that’s the point of this super-long post today, to help me remember that just because I haven’t achieved one goal I’ve worked so long for doesn’t take away another that I have succeeded in accomplishing, a goal that, dare I say it, is more important and fulfilling because it is one not that is only part of my professional life.  It is part of my whole life.  It is who I am.  It affects what I do and how I live, just like what I do and what I’ve lived through affects it.  So, as my frustrations give way to happiness even as I write this, let me just say thanks.  Thanks for reading what I have written.  What I am.


  1. That "Sally Field Moment" carried me through some dark times.
    Congratulations on your success

  2. Tanya,

    Your story is very moving, so much so that I almost teared up toward the end. Maybe its because I know you, but also because your narrative was easy to follow and identify with. Maybe another way of describing your narrative is sincere, honest, real life. There is definitely power in your writing. I look forward to reading your books and wish you much success, but stay grounded and close to the things that are truly important - family, friends, etc.

    I wish you the best.

    Rob Weisner