Happy Monday from everyone here at The Writing Barn!
Ya Gotta Pay Your Dues
by Donna Janell Bowman
The dreaded R-word! As if writers and other artists aren’t already plagued by self-doubt and bruised egos, we are further tortured by…(cue ominous music here)…rejections! It is so much a part of every creative endeavor, Charlie Chaplin once said that actors “search for rejection. If they don’t get it they reject themselves.” Sound familiar? The mere word, rejection, conjures feelings of despair in newbies and N.Y. Times bestselling authors alike. All. The. Time. Stupid, stupid R-word!
The sting of rejection isn’t surprising. Writing is art, powered by emotion, passion, and little gifts from the imagination gods. We spin our words from the thread of our souls, so of course it hurts when someone turns away the stories we weave. There are times I wonder why any of us choose to endure so much painful rejection. Then, I am reminded that a rejection doesn’t permanently tattoo our foreheads with a big L for loser or R for, well, you know.
I’ve been collecting rejections for more than a decade now. These no-mails have come in many tones, from “not right for our list” to “nice writing, but I don’t connect with the story,” and “nice story, but I don’t connect with the telling.” I’ve had an award-winning author read my manuscript, compliment the writing and suggest that I start over (she was right.) And, years ago, I cried big ugly tears during a critique by a workshop mentor. By now, though, I have perfected a milder rejection-inspired pity party. There’s usually chocolate, and whine (and sometimes wine,) and another project to distract me. More importantly, I recall something my parents used to tell me, “Ya gotta pay your dues, Princess!”
See, I was a competitive horse-crazy girl and, between my teens and early adulthood, I was a formidable opponent in the show ring. But long before any success, there was angst. Lots and lots of angst! As a youngster, my losses were attributed to general rookiness. Time, practice, and persistence would remedy that. With every loss, my parents always dished out that lesson about paying my dues. As if, after punching a dues-card that recorded my losses, I would eventually earn my way to the blue ribbon/trophy level. Funny thing is, there never came a time when I completely outgrew losses-when I had finally paid all my dues and reached perfection. Nobody ever does. Even when I’d grown in age and skill and had filled my walls with trophies and ribbons, my wins were interspersed with close-but-not-quite second-places, and some all out bad showings. But, wouldn’t you know it, as my “dues” piled up, the more skilled I became. The very best competitors had the same ups and downs. My writing/publishing journey has followed the same pattern.
There will always be judges, editors, and readers with subjective, even eclectic opinions. A few of them might be a bit crazy. Some of them will be spot-on with their criticisms. And, for others, our work simply isn’t right for them. Even now, after a tiny bit of success in my publishing journey, I still find comfort in justifying a rejection as one step toward paying my dues (but I would looove to receive a rejection addressed to Princess.) Maybe none of us would feel so bruised if rejection letters came with an R-word punch card worded: Received from author: One rejection toward paying her dues.
*Louis L’Amour received 200 rejections before a publisher took a risk on him. More than 300 million copies of his books have sold.
*Judy Blume received repeated rejections for two years. One publisher rejection included the words, “so badly written…” Blume went on to sell 80 million books.
*Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seus) was once told his story was “too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant it’s selling.” It went on to sell 300 million copies.
*Zane Grey was once told, “You have no business being a writer and should give up.” 250 million copies later…
*Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit was rejected so many times, she self-published 250 copies. It went on to sell 45 million copies.
*Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind was originally rejected 38 times.
*Elvis Presley was fired by the Grand Ole Opry after one performance. He was told, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to driving a truck.”
*Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”
And, one of my favorite examples is Babe Ruth. Until 1974, he held the record for most career-homeruns-a whopping 714! For thirty years, he held another record, too. He struck out 1,330 times at bat. He famously said, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” Nuff said!
Donna Janell Bowman is a Texas author who has been paying her dues for longer than she will admit. In addition to works for magazines, newspapers, and short story anthologies, she has authored four books for the education market and eagerly awaits the release of her first trade picture books: STEP RIGHT UP: THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL JIM KEY (Lee and Low, 2015) and EN GARDE! THE DUELING WORDS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN (Peachtree, 2016.) More books will follow.