On perseverance

By Midge Raymond,

  Filed under: On Publishing, On Writing

In this New York Times blurb about the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library opening in November, I was glad to see that among the things to be displayed are “boxes of rejection letters,” which his oldest daughter, Edie Vonnegut, hopes will inspire writers. She told the A.P. that Vonnegut received rejections telling him, “You have no talent and we suggest you give up writing.”

It’s crazy when you think of it now — but this is how nearly every writer begins a career. Edie Vonnegut said of her father, “He did not have an easy time of it, and I think for anyone who wants to be a writer, it will be important for them to see how tough it was for him.”

Whenever you read something like this, how can you not be inspired? I can’t even imagine what life would be like had Vonnegut taken any of these rejections seriously.

In my experience, editors aren’t nearly as harsh these days — probably because by now enough brilliant writers have been told to stop writing that it gets embarrassing for the editors who were so very, very wrong. In this post, literary agent Nathan Bransford tells us why his rejection letters are vague, writing, “If I’m passing on a partial, chances are it’s because I’m just not feeling that zing that I feel whenever I’m reading something I’m going to want to take on.” As so many rejected writers know, while “that zing” may not be happening for one agent or editor, it might very well happen with the next.

On his blog, Seth Godin writes about “entrepreneurial hope” and connects this notion to writers, pointing out that instead of hoping to win that “magic lottery” of having someone like Oprah turn your novel into a bestseller, authors should look at the “hard work alternative” and make it happen for themselves. Rather than pin your hopes on a lottery-like luck, he advises, “delight the audience you already have … success is mostly about finding a path and walking it one step at a time.”

I love that — and I find that it’s absolutely true; we writers simply must enjoy the process because the rewards can be so few and far between. Yet even as we’re delighting in the process, we’ll still be getting rejected here and there — and that hurts. I enjoyed this post on Book of Kells, the poet Kelli Russell Agodon’s awesome blog. Co-editor of Crab Creek Review, Kelli wrote recently about writers resubmitting to journals, including a follow-up post called Submit Like a Man — great advice for writers who need to remember that rejection is part of the process — and that following up and persevering is part of success.


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