My agent called early. My heart skipped a beat. She had my manuscript. What would she say?
She praised the writing, but she could not feel the story. “I couldn’t believe your protagonist,” she said. My heart fell. It fell all the way through the bottom of my feet to the center of the earth. “Do you have anything else?” she asked.
All I can think of is that I failed. To be honest, I feel as if I will never write a good book. I wonder if I’m cut out for this. I gave everything I had and I came up short. This is probably one of the worst failures in all my life. The pain of losing this manuscript is so great I want to burn it. I want to hide it away so that no one will ever read this awful book again.
This is what all writers fear. It’s called a nightmare. It’s called devastation. I had the faith enough to move a mountain (Holy Bible, Matthew 5), why then did the mountain not move?
I poured my heart into my manuscript. I rewrote the whole manuscript… several times. I tried to put myself into this book. It took me three years to write. The book was interesting. It was engaging. All the elements of craft were present, but the story did not ring true.
Let me hang on those words “ring true.” What does it mean to have a story ring? For a story to ring, it must stay in your heart for a long time, long after you turn the last page. It will make you sit back and sigh, and say to yourself, that was a good story. I’ve written about this a lot. That impossible rare piece of writing that really connects to an audience and resounds in the hearts of many readers. But that is not easy to do. It is hard to have a story “ring true.”
I worked hard on this story. I spent lots of money and made important people read it. I took their suggestions and tried to make it work. There was so much promise in the story. There still is, but I cannot make it happen. There is something lacking in me as a writer that I cannot make the whole package come together.
Was my agent wrong? Maybe. Maybe sitting before her was the next great American novel. But did you know that bestselling writers never have just one great novel? They have many. Kate DiCamillo, my writing idol, had her award winning great stories in her from the very her first novel, Because of Winn Dixie.
Let us say that Because of Winn Dixie failed and was never published. I believe with all my heart that we would still have Kate DiCamillo. We would still have written the Tiger Rising (in fact she had), Mercy Watson, and Flora and Ulysses. Yes she was rejected by agents and editors alike, over 450 times. Did you know that this legendary writer could not sell a picture book she desperately wanted to write. Was she a failure? Was she a bad writer? The answer is no.
The real agent who rejects a piece is not wrong; rather, this agent seeks to mine the writer for his or her true self, so that his stories might ring true.
There is more than just one great story in every writer. The ultimate rejection does not mean that those stories will never come into existence. I will admit that I am the least of all writers. I lack basic ability. I struggle with story structure and theme and appropriate violence in middle grade fiction. When you read this blog, you should understand that you are reading something written by a chief failure, a wanna be, a hopeful writing romantic. But I believe that every day we read books by failures, by wanna be writers, by hopeful romantics. And their books are on the shelf because they kept believing, and kept writing.
In my mind, it feels as if Kate DiCamillo has never had a bad book. It seems as if she has always found her way out of bad writing. That is her story. She has much to teach us, but her writing story is not the same as J.K. Rowling’s, or Alice Rice, or Katherine Patterson. And my story, your story, will be different than all of these.
I will, with faith again to move this mountain of darkness sitting on my heart, have faith that this failed story will teach me how to write a great story. May my writing story be something like this: once there was a bad writer that was rejected after writing the story of his dreams and instead of giving up, he believed again, in another story; and in that story’s own time it became something beautiful, something wonderful, something magical that one day blessed the hearts of many.