This Monday’s Rejecting Rejection with author Paige Britt takes us back to the roots of writing, and reminds us that the product is never as important as the process.
“No” is a word.
You can walk right through.
by Paige Britt
“No writing is a waste of time – no creative work where the feelings, the imagination, the intelligence must work. With every sentence you write, you have learned something. It has done you good.”
I’ve been working on the same book for 14 years. For the first few years, I was very focused on getting published. Writing and publishing went hand in hand, didn’t they? But after a while, those two activities—writing and getting published—began to drift apart, and I realized I was writing simply to write. Of course it would be lovely if someone bought what I wrote, but that was quickly becoming beside the point.
At first I was curious. If getting published wasn’t the point, what was? Why was I arranging my life—turning down jobs and passing up opportunities—to make sure I had time to write? To find the answer, I started paying attention to my writing in a way I hadn’t before. That’s when I noticed that I had stopped thinking about what would happen when I finished. I would never finish. Maybe my writing would take a different shape or form, but it would never be done. Sometimes I imagined having my first book out and seeing readers line up for my autograph. Or I imagined getting the call that my book had won a big award. But these fantasies were ultimately not very fulfilling. The thing that was fulfilling was happening to me right then, through the writing itself. It was changing me.
A friend of mine recently wrote a blog post that included a series of quotes on why writers write. This one from novelist and journalist Joan Didion points to the transformative power of writing. “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” To know what you are thinking, what you want, and what you fear is to know your own life. Knowing your own life opens you up to the possibility of knowing others as well. Writing taught me how to see what was in front of me, how to listen deeply, how to connect with others, and how to simply be. No other activity, besides meditation, has taught me so much. That’s why I kept writing all those years when there was nothing to show for it.
So what about publication? Did I give up on having an actual physical book to share with readers? Not at all. I simply changed my attitude toward what publishing meant. Writing was the lens through which I knew and experienced life most fully, most thoroughly. Publishing became the possibility of bringing what I saw—what that lens was showing me—to a broader audience. An audience that would, ultimately, continue to inform and expand my vision. So, yes, I definitely pursued publication. I went to conferences, learned about the industry, worked on my craft, submitted my work for critique, and got an agent. And then, I encountered rejection. A lot of it.
It took my incredibly hardworking and deeply committed agent Marietta Zacker two years to sell my book. For two years she kept sending it out, and for two years editors kept saying no. Some editors included comments, and based on what they said, I made major changes to my manuscript, refining it further and further. But even though I took all those no’s very seriously, I didn’t take them to heart. A no was simply a no. It wasn’t rejection. The lessons of writing had taught me the difference.
Writing taught me that the “product” of my writing was not my manuscript. It was me. I was not the same person I was when I sat down at my computer all those years ago. Writing had transformed me. Someone could decline to publish what I’d written, but they couldn’t reject the story. It was too late. The word was already out, and I was living it.
My agent eventually did sell my book and, of course, I was ecstatic. It was the one big “yes” that would allow me to offer others the lens writing had given me, so they could look through my words and see what they could see. And what will they see? I can’t wait to find out. Hopefully, something that inspires and delights them—something that helps them to know themselves more fully and to share what they learn with the world. Who could say no to that?
Paige Britt grew up fascinated with the big questions of Life. Luckily, she listened to trees and clover patches for answers, and read kids’ books for further clarification. She studied journalism in college and theology in graduate school, but never stopped reading children’s books for life’s most important lessons. She has a long-held meditation practice and is a trained spiritual director. She works with people from a wide variety of religious traditions to help them develop and maintain a life of contemplative practice. In addition to her work as a spiritual director, she is a children’s book writer. She hopes to encourage children like herself to ask the big questions and trust their own answers. Her first book, “The Lost Track of Time”, will be released in April 2015 from Scholastic Press.