Could Disappointment Be an Indicator that We are Right Where We Should Be?

Photo by Biegun Wschodni via Unsplash
Photo by Biegun Wschodni via Unsplash

Almost three months ago, my wonderful literary agent Ruth began approaching publishers about my book The Day the Angels Fell, the very same project that you all helped fund on Kickstarter almost a year and a half ago. Ruth read it and loved it and thought she might be able to find a home for it, so we sent out a book proposal to publishers. Initially, the response was strong. One publisher was immediately interested. I thought it was going to get picked up. I thought my longest-held dream, of being a novelist with a publisher, was about to come true.

But then the weeks passed. We still haven’t heard back from the first publisher. In the mean time, I received a kind rejection from one of my favorite publishers who said “the writing is absolutely beautiful, but…” Always “but.”

Right now there are two houses still considering it.

Can I be honest? I’ve felt a lot of disappointment in this process. The waiting has nearly paralyzed my creative ability. The weeks of silence and the few rejections (and even the vast, empty nothingness of no reply) rip at some raw place I didn’t know existed in me. I went into this feeling like a relatively self-confident person, someone who could take or leave whatever might happen, but I’m learning a lot about myself. I’m learning I’m not as confident as I thought I was. I’m not as independent as I thought I was. I crave this “one last” approval more than I thought I did.

And then, Maile. My wife is perfect for me. We had a long talk the other day about who I am as a writer, the kinds of things I want to put out into the world, the fact that I want to write literary YA that might not fit into today’s marketable mold. I told Maile I could sell out, write a fast-paced book that reads at a 5th grade reading level where the protagonist flirts with sex and drugs and makes fun of their parents. Maile laughed and said, “No, you couldn’t.”

And then there are my writing friends. People who remind me this book is good. Friends who remind me the only way is forward. Friends who tell me that The Day the Angels Fell made a tangible difference in the lives of their children and is a book their kids will hand down to their kids. Friends who remind me there is an eager audience waiting for book two, an audience who doesn’t care if it’s traditionally published or funded through Kickstarter.

On Wednesday of last week, something finally clicked. It was like I took a deep breath, came out of a trance, realized it is spring again. Spring always has a way of coming back around, doesn’t it? I started writing again, forging my way into book three, the final book of the trilogy that begins with The Day the Angels Fell and continues with The Edge of Over There (not yet released). I realized I have to keep writing through this process. I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Yes, I’ve been disappointed so far. Yes, if none of these publishing houses decide to take it, I will feel rejected and disappointed. But I feel like I’ve gone deeper this year into my writing life than I have ever gone before. I feel like I’ve found something there, long buried, something crucial. I’ve even discovered that I have a huge desire to make this book a success, with or without a publisher. That thought excites me. I can do this! (With your help, of course.)

And it all makes me wonder if we need to press in closer to our disappointment, if we need to get past the initial shock of it and ask why? Why is this disappointing to me? What does this disappointment tell me about what I think is important?

And is it possible that the location of my disappointment leads me closer to the location of my true hope?

Update: I wrote this post on May 12th, 2016. Four weeks later, I received and signed a 3-book deal with Revell to publish not only The Day the Angels Fell but also the sequel and a third book, yet to be determined.

15 Replies to “Could Disappointment Be an Indicator that We are Right Where We Should Be?”

    1. Thanks, Dorothy. Further up and further in! One of my favorite lines from CS Lewis’ The Last Battle.

  1. “rip at some raw place I didn’t know existed in me” That place seems like a beginning, I think. Not a welcome one, but a beginning.
    Waiting with you, Shawn, from the side-lines :)

  2. You’re asking all the right questions, and you’re definitely right in the perfect place. Most enviably-situated novelists I know of have been in this place at one point in their career. There’s no sugar-coating the difficulty and the pain of it. But without being glib, I do have a sense that’s a necessary part of the journey, even when it doesn’t end there. Especially when it doesn’t end there. BTW, I’m right there myself. Right in the thick of it.

  3. Hi Shawn,

    I am sorry for your discouragement. Only a minute ago I ordered The Day the Angels Fell for my daughter and I look forward to the rest in the series. In my book, I wrote about waiting being like a womb where we are being formed. But, like you, I don’t like waiting after a while, and I am not as good as it as I think. During each new trial, I get pressed further. So, I too have to go back and read my own words.


    1. What a beautiful metaphor, Marlena. Such a perfect way of thinking about it.

      Thanks for ordering the book, and I hope your daughter enjoys it. It was such a pleasure hearing you speak at FFW and then to spend some time catching up.

  4. Not realizing we had parts in us that could be so disappointed. I’m face to face with that part of me. We’ll never be friends but I’m getting to know her. Really good words here too. PS I’m late to the game. Where can I read about this trilogy?

  5. “And is it possible that the location of my disappointment leads me closer to the location of my true hope?”

    Gracious, this resonated. I recently really “put myself out there” in a couple of different ways. One was with a writing thing, one was with a teaching job. One worked out and one didn’t. But both did help clarify (and drive me to think about further trying to clarify” what I desire to be doing with my life and what that could look like logistically while still being home a good bit while my children are small. I hadn’t thought to articulate it the way you did, though, and I think that was a further help. Grateful for you, Shawn.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Sarah. It has just occurred to me that by putting yourself out there, sure, you felt some rejection or disappointment, but it also gave you clarity. Maybe this is another side of disappointment.

  6. As a young man, encountering disappointment was an occasion for anger and acusation, I felt belittled and some how “less than” by those who I thought could give me what I deserved or hoped for. Pushing 80 years of life, I now feel strongly that old Presbyterian belief of “predestination” (although as an Episcopalion I can’t buy the whole deal) often applies for me. One of the ways God communicates with me is through life events that involve pluses and minuses, yes and nos, acceptance and rejection. If I believe their is a path He wants me to walk, and I am willing to accept His guidance, then disappointment becomes a signpost or a fork in the road. Maybe I choose to wait and see what happens or perhaps I choose to explore other venues on the journey to finding His will for me to love and serve! In either case it can be a painful process, requiring support and care from those who love me! Shawn thank you for reminding me of the question and please know you are not alone in the experience. I also think you have answered the question raised by your blog with a resounding “YES”!

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