The Beauty of “No”

As summer draws to a close, many writers will spend the autumn waiting for answers from agents and editors who requested pages at conferences or from queries during the last few months.

Some will eventually get “the call,” but for the overwhelming majority, waiting will lead to “no.” (Or, in some lucky cases, “No, thank you.”)

That “no” is something you never get used to. It never ceases to hurt. You’d think that after twenty, or fifty, or maybe a hundred rejections, a writer could build up a callus sufficient to keep that “no” from knocking the wind from her gut.

You might think so, but you’d be wrong.

Today, I want to address a different side of that wrenching “no.” To explain what it looks like from this side of Alice’s looking glass. To show you that, sometimes, that “no” is the best response an aspiring author can hear.

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It was for me, though it took me a decade to understand why.

My very first manuscript placed in the finals of a major writing contest. It earned me requests for full reads on 8 of 12 queries. I sent the manuscript off with stars in my eyes and high expectations – only to have them crushed when every agent rejected me.

That started a cycle of “wash, rinse, and repeat the rejection” which lasted nine years and earned me a set of emotional stripes that would make a zebra jealous.

Time after time, I nursed my wounds and cried the bitter tears that come from watching a dream go up in smoke. Time after time, I picked myself up when I thought my strength was gone. Without writing, the core of me would cease to exist. That–and only that–made it worth the pain.

During those nine long years in the Land of No, I struggled to understand the craft of writing. With each manuscript, I tried to improve. Perhaps, I thought, I’d find the keys that opened the gates to the Kingdom of Yes.

I read. I wrote. I learned to accept critique and to give it.

I studied. I focused. I learned my craft.

And then (as you probably figured out) I found the “magical looking-glass” that leads from the Land of No to the Kingdom of Yes.  Looking back from the other side, I realized something startling: the crossing wasn’t magical at all.

All those years of work and pain had made me a better writer. Moving on and writing more books made me infinitely better than I would have been if I’d stuck to my guns and simply revised the same one over and over. One or more of those early books might have been good enough to publish (I don’t know, and I no longer care). But I can tell you that none of them was nearly as good as Claws of the Cat. More importantly–I didn’t have the skills to write Claws when I started. I needed to write and move on from the other ones first.

“No” made me a better writer.

“No” forced me to focus and learn.

“No” taught me to understand the value of yes, and the importance of stretching yourself and your writing, not only until publication but with every single word you put on the page.

Seen from that perspective, all that “No” is a beautiful thing.

Now, that doesn’t change the suffering that accompanies rejection. It doesn’t make it easier to get up and try again. It doesn’t guarantee your beloved manuscript will see publication–any more than a mother can promise her child will become an astronaut.

But it is an important lesson learned from this side of the looking-glass, and one I hope that you will take to heart.

“No” doesn’t mean you will never make it.

“No” doesn’t mean you suck.

“No” is an invitation, and also a challenge.

An invitation to learn and grow, and a challenge to become better than you ever thought you’d be. When you accept it, and rise to that challenge, you too can find the magical door that leads through the looking-glass.

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And when you do, I’ll be here, waiting to welcome you home.

4 thoughts on “The Beauty of “No”

  • September 6, 2013 at 7:47 am

    Hi Susan,
    What an AWESOME post!!!

    My journey stretched for 9 very long years too. Full of rejections, rewrites and reruns of running ideas in my head.

    But I couldn’t have become the writer I now am without those 9 years of hard work. And yes, I couldn’t have written the book(s) unless I’d honed those skills either. I share the journey you have and coincidentally the same number of magical years… 9.

    Will Tweet, FB and share this! A must read!!

    • September 6, 2013 at 9:41 pm

      I’m so glad this resonated with you! Sometimes, it’s nice to share the rough patches — they close the gaps and make us realize this business isn’t QUITE as lonely as sometimes it seems.

  • September 6, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    Beautifully said….sometimes rejection can get you where you were supposed to be all along.

    • September 6, 2013 at 9:42 pm

      Thanks Wynd 🙂 And yes, I believe falling down exists, in part, to teach us to get up again.

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