Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

rejection letters May 29, 2010

In the May 20th blog entry, “Why I Love My Job” I told you that in grade 5 I switched my career goal from writing to teaching.  I didn’t tell you why.

In grade 3 and 4, I was a writing star.  I shared stories with my grade 3 class during show and tell, and I know I kept them on the edge of their seats with my brilliant prose.  In grade 4 I won a Mother’s Day contest with a poem I’d written.  My star was on fire.  I had nothing but confidence in my skills as a writer.

In grade 5, I shared a poem I’d written with my school librarian, Mrs. Alex Harbottle , and she suggested I send it in to a magazine.  She recommended a children’s poetry journal called Jabberwocky.  I sent off my poem.  In due course, I received a letter back from them.  Heart thudding with joyful anticipation I opened the envelope, and pulled out my first rejection letter.

Oh, it was a kind and thoughtful letter.  My poem, the editor said, was too mature for their journal.  It was a lovely poem, and I should send it on to an adult poetry magazine or a religious magazine.  They thanked me for my submission and hoped I would send them something else another time.

I was shocked.  I was 10 years old.  Why would my poem be of interest to adults or the audience of a religious magazine?   I couldn’t deal with their suggestion, and so I shut that door.

Don’t get me wrong, I was still writing poetry.  Just ask the boys who captured my interest and received beautiful hand calligraphied books dedicated to them!  I also wrote articles and a library column for the school newspaper.  That was just the end of looking for public approval until college when I discovered my fiance (who was NOT a writer) was going to enter a piece into the writing award.  I couldn’t have that!  It was only 2 or 3 hours to deadline, but I borrowed a typewriter, invented a story on the spot (typing very poorly!) and managed to win the prize.  It paid for his wedding ring.  That could have been enough  to inspire me to start sending out my words again, but it wasn’t.  I used them up on babies and students instead.  Two decades playing with the words of others at home and in a classroom.

Then I wrote a novel.  And another.

So now, after many years, I’m sending my words out for others to assess and to determine if those words can make them money and generate an audience for their company.  I’m sending off queries and talking to publishers.  The rejection letters are due.

I think I can handle it.  I did all right after 6 months of discussion with an agent led to the first rejection e-mail.  I wasn’t crushed.  I simply thought, “We’re just not the right fit.” (though I regret not letting her know I had a publisher indicate interest in the manuscript!) I was simply astonished when another query was returned with a “we have too many things on the pile at the moment, can you re-submit this later?” note.  (Note to self- possible area of career demand-literary agent).  No devastation.  No urges to commit suicide by letter opener as a result of another crushing blow.  So far so good.

I’m trying to re-frame the name.  They’re not so much ‘rejection letters’ as new opportunities to explore, right?  They’re not about me and my words, necessarily, they can be about what fits with the company and their needs.  Publishers a’re  businesses, after all.  They have to find product that matches with their vision.  It’s not personal.  It’s just business.  But those words I’ve sent out there are my babies, and I want them to be well-liked and find friends who will help them become all they can be.

I’m trying to feel brave as I send my words out.  I hope they’ll be received well. 

Last year, in response to a joyful email note I’d sent upon initial interest by an agent in Grace Awakening, an old, dear friend (who was beneficiary of a few of those calligraphied poetry books once upon a time) wrote, “You’re a writer.  You’ve always been one.”  It makes me weepy whenever I consider his simple assertion of this identity for me.  One rejection letter  in my youth made me doubt that this was my calling, but I’m claiming it again.

I am returning to the childhood quest, Mrs. Harbottle, because I am a writer.

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14 Responses to “rejection letters”

  1. […] and tell. I planned to be a writer. I was about ten when I decided I was going to become a teacher instead. I planned to teach grade four or five. My grade four teacher, Mr Lavoie, and my grade five teacher, […]

  2. keren Huyter Says:

    You ARE a writter, and a dang fine one at that! Even your blog has me hanging on every word 🙂 I can’t wait to get the chance to read your book!!!! Shimmy hugs!

  3. Ange Says:

    Hey Shawn! Did you ever stop to think about how many NO’s a writer must first recieve before becoming published? Each NO is just bringing you one step closer to a HELL YA!!
    You may not be making buckets of money by blogging but… has it yet crossed your mind that you are bringing joy to readers through your writen work none the less?
    Keep your pencil sharp!

    • Shawn Bird Says:

      I’m glad you enjoy visiting the blog Ange. I definitely consider every piece of information I’m given by professionals, but I’m getting a lot of YESes instead of the NOs I was anticipating. Maybe it’s a good thing it took me this long to get to this place?

  4. Maurie Nord Says:

    Stephen King…..stacks of R.L. What would u be if not a writer? I am a writer. What should I write Stephen? Write any damn thing u want! ♥

  5. I feel every word of this post in my soul. (And I join your friend’s assertion – you ARE a writer). I’m just starting to venture my foot into the water of putting my long-hidden words out there and so fearful of the rejection letters. But this is encouraging to me, so good luck to us both!

  6. taylorjewel Says:

    Such encouraging words for all the brave hearts out there! Thanks for your wise perspective on this process, and I’m so happy you continue to write – my reader wouldn’t be the same without your fiery, poetic voice brightening my eyes and moving my soul! Good job keeping on!

  7. Joanne Corey Says:

    Reblogged this on Top of JC's Mind and commented:
    I happened upon this 2010 post from the blog of Shawn L. Bird, which I have been following for several months. I love how time has made her able to accept rejection letters with such equanimity.

    I chose not to send my music compositions to publishers as a young adult because I felt I would be too discouraged by rejection to keep on trying. Now, in my fifties, changing to writing essays and poetry instead of music, I am able to send things out and get rejection letters without letting it stop me from writing and submitting again.

    I admit, though, it would nice to get an acceptance every once in a while.

    Maybe next time…

    • I have had good experiences (and signed contracts) pitching to folks I meet at writing conferences, particularly when I’m pitching to folks who are looking for my kind of work.

      You know what else? I can assert to myself that I’m a good writer all I want, but when a best selling author reads your work, looks you in the eyes, and tells you that you’re a good writer, she passes along a lot of faith that it is all working out, eventually. 🙂 (Bless Diana Gabaldon, for repeating those words to me, year after year).

      You know what else? I got a royalty cheque today. 🙂 That means I have readers!

  8. Beautiful note about writing, teaching, and life. I am discovering my writing skills after teaching for 40 years. Thanks for following. Best wishes!


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