The Rejection that I Really Needed


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If you decide you’re going to be a writer, rejection is something you need to get used to early on. And it’s not just the newbies who find their inboxes full of metaphorical pink slips. Madeleine L’Engle, international bestseller, went through a ten-year slump, in which she thought she might have to give up on her career, before someone finally gave A Wrinkle in Time a chance. Especially after a run of success, rejection is hard to swallow, and that’s where I found myself last week.

My problem is that I am a planner to a fault. And I had a goal for how much money I wanted to earn last week, which was dependent on the number of articles that were accepted. I got past the halfway point with acceptance after acceptance, and I felt pretty good. I mean, I was writing about obscure things like foot valves – I didn’t have a clue what a foot valve was before I wrote that article – and getting paid for them. I began to have that indestructible, I’m-never-going-to-get-rejected-again feeling. And then you can guess what happened.

And it wasn’t something weird like the foot valve that did it. It was an article on treadmills. I used to run on a treadmill every day. I’m familiar with the super-fancy models they have in gyms, as well as the simpler models for home use. My instructions were specific about keyword phrases and how often to use them, and there was a website for reference. I followed all the instructions to a T, submitted the article. . . then waited. I waited longer than usual, then finally received an e-mail that it needed revisions. This worried me somewhat, but I figured I’d fix whatever I needed to fix, then have done with it. Except my instructions were that it was exactly not the kind of article the requester wanted. Well, I followed all of the instructions, so how else was I supposed to write it? Not only that, but she didn’t want me to edit the article. She wanted me to start from scratch. At that point, I’d already invested a couple hours of my time without being paid, and it wasn’t worth starting over – especially when the requester refused to send me specifics about what parts of the article didn’t work for her.

At that point, I was behind on my weekly goal, and unless I planned to stay up a couple hours later than usual to make up for it, I wasn’t going to be able to catch up. Now, my goal was ambitious, anyway, but that’s how I am. Instead of having a meltdown, however, which is what I tend to do when I can’t force things to go by the plan, I accepted it.

Looking back, I realize now that the pace I was keeping was liable to blow up in my face eventually, and the rejection actually saved me from what could have been much worse. I could have stuck to my goal, added to my sleep deficit, and lost my temper numerous times as I tried to cram thirty hours worth of work into a twenty-four hour day. Instead, I took some much-needed rest, read the novel I’ve been neglecting, and picked up a new project with a much friendlier deadline.

Rejections can be disappointing, yes, but they can also be freeing. Mine gave me perspective on the balance (or lack thereof) between my writing and personal life. That doesn’t mean I’m looking forward to the next one, but when it inevitably comes, it’ll probably be time for another wake up call, anyway.

Time, That Fickle Fiend

Time flies–unless it stands still. Time is kind to some, cruel to others. Time supposedly heals all wounds (although that’s a theory I don’t want to test). And even the staunchest of pacifists kill time.

My grandmother used to have a saying, “Life is like a roll of toilet paper; the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes.” Well, if that’s true, then there are times when I am sure that my demise is near. But, to temper that, I have some days that feel like they last for months.

Do you ever remember, when you were a kid, how long everything took? Summer break or my birthday or Christmas were always forever away. Or, my personal favorite, I was convinced that it was a four-hour drive from Jacksonville to Disney World until I was a teenager and realized it was much closer to two. Excitement and anticipation made the waiting both painful and delicious.

There were other times when my own dread of something stretched time until I couldn’t see past the obstacle of the moment. Piano recitals were the worst. The day of was terrible, but usually that whole week, there was nothing for me to do but dread my performance. There might be birthday parties to attend that weekend, family coming from out of town, a trip the following week—none of it existed as long as that piano recital was in the way. Then, the recital itself was almost an out-of-body experience, during which someone else’s hands flew over the keys, and at the end I stood and bowed, wondering what had happened. After a few minutes of disbelief, I realized that it was over and my life could continue.

How interesting it is that time fluctuates like this, yet it’s a static thing, in as much as a minute equals sixty seconds and an hour equals sixty minutes and so on. Even when we tamper with time by either falling back or springing forward, we don’t actually gain or lose time. It’s not as if a vacuum swallows that precious hour in the spring and spits it out again in the fall. Rather, we re-label the hours that already exist, and during the adjustment period, we often feel like we’re running late when it’s suddenly sunny at seven in the morning.

Adults are very protective of their time. It is a precious commodity of which I, at least, am very protective. I know that I never seem to have enough. Few things will set me on edge or make me lose my temper like running late. Or what about working on the computer for hours, only for it to crash? That’s time that I’ll never get back, not to mention that I can never exactly replicate what I lost.

And I have to split my time between all those things that I want or feel I need to do and my children. I have to remind myself that they are only little once, to enjoy every moment. I look forward to each new stage and achievement, but I will never get back those moments already past. They grow so quickly, and they’ll be in college before I know it, or so I’ve heard. On the other hand, when I was pregnant, I thought they would never get here. Why is nine months so long on that end of the pregnancy, yet after the baby is born, nine months fly by (except for those moments that drag when the baby doesn’t sleep, nor does anyone else in the house)? It was bizarre during my second pregnancy to both watch my first son grow and develop at a lightning pace, but to also feel like I was mired down, barely changing. I was convinced that baby was never going to come. Like the piano recital, I couldn’t see past his birth, which seemed to be years away. (Yikes, can you imagine how an elephant feels?)

My fascination with time extends into books I read and shows or movies that I watch. Right now I’m rereading Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox. I just got through the big reveal, where all the time pieces fall into place, and I am still amazed/flummoxed at how author Eoin Colfer pulls it off. And how can I forget my first awe-filled readings of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban or A Wrinkle in Time? I think it’s in my blood be attracted to stories like this, even when they make my head spin. Although I hesitate to call myself a Trekkie (we never went to Star Trek conventions dressed in unflattering, duo-toned bodysuits, although I did buy my dad Hamlet translated into Klingon one year), I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and later Deep Space Nine. Despite their corniness, the episodes or movies that I remember with fondness all, in some way or other, deal with time travel or getting caught in a time loop. Other favorite movies are Click (I cry every time), MementoDéjà Vu, Meet the Robinsons, and of course the Back to the Future trilogy. And even though I’m not into romance, per se, I love the two Outlander books that I’ve read so far. The writing and story are good, but the time travel quandary itself is what attracted me to the series.

As for my own writing, I haven’t tackled time travel yet. It’s so mind-boggling that I’m afraid I wouldn’t be up to the task. Of course, I never thought that I would write young adult fiction, either, until I began reading so much of it that a young adult story began to blossom within me. I guess that means I’m just going to have to sacrifice and read some more time-related literature if I want to pursue the precarious time continuum in my own writing. What a shame.

If It’s Good Enough for Madeleine L’Engle, It’s Good Enough for Me

In several recent blogs, I’ve quoted Madeleine L’Engle, and for good reason. If you have not yet discovered her (she passed away a few years ago, although her writing lives on), I encourage you to click on any of the links or book covers in this blog. I will talk a little about how she has inspired and encouraged me, but there is so much more than I can include in one blog.

I credit L’Engle with one writing practice that I’ve kept up with for five years now, journaling. A lot of people poke fun at me about it, as if I’m ten and writing about the boy I have a crush on. But journaling is so much more than “Dear Diary” entries. It’s something that I can do with total honesty, without the fear of criticism or rejection, something that I can turn to later and either laugh at myself or marvel at how much an experience shaped my life.

It wasn’t Madeleine L’Engle who introduced the idea to me. Someone gave me my first diary when I was barely old enough to write cohesive sentences. I still have it, with a pink cover on the outside and the progression of my wobbly handwriting through the beginnings of cursive on the inside. It wasn’t a regular thing, but something fun for me to do from time to time, something that made me feel grown up. As a teenager, I tried to keep a more regular journal, but I eventually gave up and checked in maybe once every few months or years to say, “Yep, I graduated from high school” or “Wedding date set for next summer.”

Then in early 2007, I found out I was pregnant. I owned a number of books that I still had not read, and I knew that there was a chance that a new baby would occupy most of my reading time. Included in the list of unread books were a handful of Madeleine L’Engle’s, starting with her famous A Wrinkle in Time. There was also one entitled Madeleine L’Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life (Writers’ Palette), which is a compilation of material from her writings, speeches, and workshops. Before I even finished the book, I adopted the journaling habit with renewed enthusiam and vigor.

L’Engle gives three recommendations to writers: “read, keep an honest journal, and write every day” (188). Reading wasn’t a problem. And I wrote when I had the time or when inspiration struck, often in spurts. But journaling? I recalled my poor, neglected blank book (I did actually graduate from the pink cover to a Star Wars one at some point), and I had no idea when I’d written in it last. When I finally found the book, I realized that if anyone were to pick it up, my life would seem full of holes. There were many significant events that I had not bothered to document. Organizer that I am, I went through all my old calendars, looking at all that had happened in the years since I’d kept my journal somewhat faithfully, and I began the act of recording. Well over a month later, I sat in a hospital bed, waiting to welcome my first child into the world, and I finished catching up. I’ve kept it up daily ever since.

Sometimes I simply go through the motions: “I woke up late today”; “It was a typical Tuesday”; “I’m too tired to think straight, but here I am, anyway.” If I’m so busy that I hardly have time to pause and write in my journal, it’s even more important that I force myself to do so. Otherwise, it might be a day in which my writing skills become stagnant. Like playing scales on the piano or stretching before a run, this practice is necessary to keep a writer primed. I’ve gone months at a time when my journal was the only place I wrote, and I’m thankful that I had it. So ingrained is the practice now that not doing it would be like forgetting to brush my teeth.

I don’t know what inspired me to do so, but I recently re-read Herself. Due to its format (most sections are less than one page), I absorbed it one idea at a time and over the period of a couple months rather than a few days. If I came away with the discipline of journaling five years ago, I left with so much more in the way of writerly advice this time around. I think it’s safe to say that my blogs will contain quotes from her for a while. I admire her for her strength as a person as well as a writer. She stuck with her chosen vocation through a decade of rejection (and she’d already published successfully before that), which inspires me to hold on and persevere through the unfriendly publishing world.

Page 34 says, “Being a writer does not necessarily mean being published. It’s very nice to be published. It’s what you want. When you have a vision, you want to share it. But being a writer means writing. It means building up a body of work. It means writing every day.” Many people, knowing that I write but was (for the most part) unpublished called me an aspiring writer. Lack of publication, however, makes me no less of a writer. It’s writing that is the qualifier here. L’Engle gave me permission to call myself what I really am.

One final thing (and I’m culling the list quite a bit here) is her knowledge on writing for children. I do not consider myself a writer for children, per se. In fact, the two stories that I have published (one out of print, the other here at are not for children at all, although they do have children as secondary characters. If you’re familiar with A Wrinkle in Time, a book that is included in the elementary school curriculum of many schools, did you know that L’Engle did not originally write it for a young audience? She simply wrote it, and it was categorized for children later. “To write for children,” she says, “it usually synonymous with writing down to children, and that’s an insult to [them]. Children are far better believers than adults; they are aware of what most adults have forgotten” (157). I certainly want to write for an audience who believes, so that is the goal I keep in mind when I write. And on that future date when someone (I hope) finds my book worthy of publication, I can worry about which age group wants to read it.