As I packed for the move to Seattle this fall, I made decent progress on all but one front: a, mountain of personal papers. Imagine 3000-5000 pages--everything from old love letters to leases, poems, resumes, professional correspondence, contracts, published articles, ancient receipts...Okay, now imagine all of that thrown into a barrel with 600 rejection letters dating back 20 years--picture all of this shaken wildly, then removed in handfuls and tossed pell-mell into boxes.
I faced something like that. And I suppose I could blame it on a half-dozen cross-country moves...or on a crushing divorce. But I think the truer answer may lie in the staggering number of rejections received over the course of two decades (after I'd published four novels preceded by twenty more years of rejection. Or to put that another way: twenty plus twenty years of failure with five years of success in between). I believe I numbed myself in ways I never knew. As I started to sift through the wreckage, I found unopened envelopes--which I'd rightly guessed to hold tiny form rejections. They'd have broken my back on the rack at that time. And so I tossed them into drawers, along with unopened bills...and an important personal letter I'd never known I'd gotten.
I felt ready to quit after two hours' work. Why not bundle the lot of it into a bag and then lug that off to the dumpster? Who needed further reminding of so many years of neglect and abuse?
But on the project's second night, my heart began to rally. I wanted these papers in order and, by God, I needed to keep them. The greater risk lay in forgetting the System I'd chosen to fight, writing the novels I felt born to write as well as I could write them. Whatever my problems, whatever the cost, I held fast to my love of my art.
I've gone on to publish six ebooks, with a seventh on the way. So let me give the many No's their burial inside a box--and get on with the Yes of the life and the career I enjoy now.
I've come to subscribe to the following creed:
I've also learned a dire truth: we don't always know how badly we've been hit. We need help if we go to the mailbox with hands raised before us in terror like a villager in an old fright flick. We need to do something to counter the cumulative impact of year after year of rejection. And I believe that 'something' should be a pursuit we enjoy and at which we excel: whether sport, martial art or origami. The knowledge of excellence there, on the left, buffers the sting of the snubs on the right.
In a way what we're doing is transferring funds from one account to another:
The richer the sense of our personal excellence elsewhere, the more surely we'll cope with the cold-hearted rebuffs.