Last night, I dreamed I was at a resort. There was some sort of reception on a beach, and people from my high school were there. Everyone spoke to me, even the ones I had perceived as more popular, more attractive, more intelligent, more likeable than me in high school.
Someone called for the group to move toward the restaurant, and we did. Once inside, the tables filled quickly with groups of friends, chatting, taking seats, and saving chairs for others.
I couldn’t find a seat.
I asked at one table, and the friendly chatter ceased. A woman shook her head “No” and placed an arm over an empty chair, guarding it. Not quite sure how to deal with this shifted level of acceptance, I went to the buffet, where instead of a plate, I was handed a brown paper bag. I filled the bag with fruit, cheese, and bread, and then took it outside to sit alone on the grass. I fed the bread to the birds nearby.
Now, I know where this dream originated. It came from two fresh sources.
First, I had a book launch this past week. A high school classmate, who was and still is a dear friend, came the book signing, which happened to be in her town, two hours from where we both grew up. We posted pictures of us together on social media, and as a result, high school friends commented. Even ones I had perceived as so much more popular, attractive, likeable … you get it.
Second, a writer friend this week posted a research question on a writer’s group page. She asked, “At what age do you think children start being exclusionary when it comes to allowing others to sit at their lunch table?”
So, the dream – with its themes of acceptance and rejection – had solid origins. Still, when I awoke, I was amazed by how very real, raw, and current old feelings (and I mean old; high school was a long time ago) could be. As a writer of books for young readers, I feel fortunate that I can recall what it felt like to be thirteen, fourteen, even ten.
And then it occurred to me that maybe it’s because I am writer that I’m still able to connect in such a visceral way with feelings of rejection. Rejection, after all, is a large part of every writer’s life. If it’s not, you’re not putting your writing out into the world.
Early on, writers face lots of rejection. Nearly every book published was once (or twice or twenty times) rejected. We’ve all heard (various versions of) how many times J.K. Rowling was told “No, thanks” before the Harry Potter series was published. We’re rejected by editors, by agents, we don’t win contests, we send our work out into the world and … crickets.
But even amid success, published authors continue to hear that their work, or sometimes worse yet, they are not wanted or needed. We create brilliant proposals for workshops, we apply for faculty positions at conferences, we hope to be invited, included, asked, or needed. And sometimes, we get what we hoped for. And often, we don’t.
The inimitable Jane Yolen – you might know that she’s now published more than 365 books in her career, hence #Yolen365 – frequently posts her rejections on Facebook. Yes, publishers reject Jane Yolen. Even today. She reminds us that you’re never too successful to cease the hard work that made you successful in the first place. You must put yourself and your work out there. Often. Even if it means you’re rejected more often.
So, in Jane’s spirit, I’ll give you a glimpse into my year so far: I’ve had 5 manuscript rejections and 2 offers. I joined a stellar cast of authors to create a well-thought-out STEM-related panel proposal at a major national education conference – and we were rejected. I’ve applied for faculty positions at four writing conferences – and I’m happy to say that I’ll be on the SCBWI Regional Fall Conference faculties in Ohio and Wisconsin, but not in two other states. I applied for a prestigious children’s book festival and was rejected. I admit, it was a little difficult seeing fellow authors post their pictures from that festival, but I am invited to four other book festivals in 2018. I applied for and was accepted into a select program for published picture book authors. I’ve stretched my wings with a submission in a brand new genre (for me), and I’m patiently, but realistically, waiting to hear about that.
If I could go back to sleep and reenter that dream, I’d confidently approach another table. I’d find someone else who looked alone, I’d smile and introduce myself to someone. In other words, I’d try again.
We can’t let rejection isolate us. We can’t let self-doubt creep in. Writers must persevere even when it feels easier to give up. Otherwise, we find ourselves alone, feeding our dinner to the birds.