What I’ve Tried to do for 17 Years (or, The In-Between)


It would be so much easier to wait a week before writing this post. In a week I will know a lot more. In a week I could write a strong piece in the vein of a “disappointed-but-not-giving-up” writer. Or maybe it will be a shocked, celebratory piece. It all depends on the news I get this week. But here, now, on this muggy evening in mid-June, four months after my agent began shopping my novel around to publishing houses, the in-between is hard to navigate.

Still, I think I should write this post. I think we need to share more in-betweens with each other. I think we need to be willing to say, “Look, this is where I am, and it’s not where I want to be, but will you come along, whatever might happen?”

* * * * *

I’ve received a few very kind rejections during this process from publishing houses who can’t figure out how to market the book or are uncomfortable making predictions on how it will perform. You know. Where they say things like “beautiful writing” and “wonderful voice” and “talent” yet at some point throw in the “but.”

But for all of the rejections and silence, my agent and I have gotten somewhere. Three publishers are interested, and one is even considering The Day the Angels Fell at their pub board meeting this week. So. I will know one way or another by Wednesday.

I know I’ve been on a strong “don’t give up” kick recently here at the blog, but, seriously. Don’t give up.

When I was 22, I was rejected by 5 MFA programs. That’s right. Five. I still have the rejection letters in a file somewhere. I wanted to get a masters degree in creative writing, but no one would take me. I applied to the best-of-the-best programs and a few of the average-of-the-most-average. Thank God they said no. I didn’t have a clue who I was as a person, much less as a writer.

For the next nine years – yeah, nine years – my writing life consisted of writing in my journal non-stop and regular rejections of my short stories by various literary journals and magazines. It was a steady diet of rejection, of “no,” of “you’re not good enough.” I wrote in my journal and then, when the sting of previous rejections had faded away, I’d write another short story and send it off. Months later, a form rejection. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Why didn’t I quit writing during those nine years? I’m not really sure. I had no outlet to the rest of the world – there were no blogs, no online magazines, no way for strangers to easily find and read my work. There was very little affirmation or encouragement. These days of easy access to readers is a both a blessing and a curse for writers. But I continued writing, gathering all the words, filling all the journals, and lining the journals up on my bookshelf, one after the other. “One page a day,” I’d tell myself, and that’s what I did.

Then, when I was 31 years old, eight years ago, I got the chance of a lifetime: I co-wrote a book for a real, live publishing house. During the last seven years, I’ve co-written over 20 books for other people, and I self-published a few of my own. But I’ve always kept that dream. I always wanted to be a novelist, published by a publishing house. I think that will always be in my mind, always something I aspire to. I no longer look down my nose at independent publishing. I think it’s a wonderful option, one I will probably use again in the future. But to have a publishing house love your work enough to bring you in, to publish your book? That’s always been my dream.

And now? I’m so close. But you never know how these things will go.

Maybe it’s because I’m almost 40, or maybe it’s because I’ve got five kids and one on the way, or maybe it’s because I no longer feel the pressure of trying to be a young prodigy…whatever the case, no matter the news I receive, I know I’ll keep writing. Not because this is the closest I’ve ever come to having a traditionally-published book, but simply because I’m a writer. I write. It’s what I do.

So. Enough about me. Maybe you feel like you’re stumbling along in whatever it is you do. You probably wish you were further along or higher up, better known or appreciated more than you are. Trust me when I say that you have no idea how the creative work you are doing today will come into fruition ten years from now, or twenty years from now. You just have to keep doing what you’re doing. Get better. Work harder. Study your craft. Keep making mistakes. Keep getting rejected.

It’s what I’m doing. It’s what I’ve been doing for the last 17 years. Maybe you’re just starting out, or maybe you’ve been on your path for 17 years. Or maybe you’ve been walking much longer. No matter. Let’s walk this road together.

4 Replies to “What I’ve Tried to do for 17 Years (or, The In-Between)”

  1. Shawn, These posts are such a supportive arm around my shoulder. I’ve always known I was a writer. But it took me 40 years to understand it’s not a job. I quit writing creatively for a number of years because I had a career. In this season of life, I have the opportunity to blog, etc. and it’s like the floodgates have opened inside of me. I don’t have a clue where it will take me. I have dreams like you. I do know this, the journey of writing is good in itself. It feels wonderful to be on that journey again!

    Enough about me. I’ll pray for your opportunity this week!

    1. Thanks, Traci. I love that the floodgates have opened for you! Follow where it takes you. And you’re right – “this journey of writing is good in itself.”

  2. I really appreciate that you’ve written from the in-between, because that seems to be where we spend so much of our time. The rejections are discouraging, for sure — sometimes I feel like having “I know, I’m not what you’re looking for” stamped on my forehead. :-) It’s hard not to take it personally and wonder if it’s worth pursuing. But when it comes to writing it really IS so much about the journey, both the skills you develop and what you learn about yourself. Thanks for your words today, and I hope Wednesday brings great news.

  3. Thank you for this encouragement on the in-between time. I need to be reminded that I’m not behind, that rejection can be good, and that waiting is part of the journey.

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