'Accept whatever comes to you woven in the pattern of your destiny, for what could more aptly fit your needs.'
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
It strikes me as strange that in the week that my second novel is published I'm musing on the long and decidedly bumpy road to this point, so bumpy in fact that my husband suggested I must have done something awful in a past life to gather so much bad karma. To be fair, there were many pieces of good fortune along the way to lure me on: grants, residencies, the publication of short stories and non fiction pieces. But always the novel eluded me. It took me twelve years to find a publisher for my first novel (actually my second) and in that time and even since then, I have come to know the tone and tenor of every form of rejection, from the blank silence that is never filled so you wait each day for a response, not even knowing if your manuscript has been received, to the glowing personal phone call - 'This is an extraordinary novel, perfect in every sense, but I'm afraid I can't publish it. . .' In between these extremes are a vast array of styles: the blank 'with compliments' slip; the pre-written standard note; and the hand written personalised note, its words scrutinised over and over for any subtext. Aside from the waiting and the silences, the worst for me was the one that began – 'Do not despair. . .'
My first novel, Nowhere Man (still unpublished) found me an agent and a ream of rejections. Most publishers loved it or admired it (or so they said) but no one would publish it on the grounds that it was terribly bleak and would only work as a second novel. I set to work on a new novel and Gathering Storm was finally completed at a time when memoir was at the height of fashion and fiction was at its lowest point in history. Consequently, although it was appropriate for a first novel, all it received were flattering and often elaborate rejection letters. In the end, despite their tone or their word count, rejection letters are still rejections.
Some time before Gathering Storm found a publisher, my eldest daughter gave me a magnet that says in big bold letters, NEVER NEVER NEVER GIVE UP. It still sits on my filing cabinet in my study and over the years has proved to be a most useful piece of advice. Ironically though, despite the fridge magnet admonishing me to 'never give up', it was only when I made the decision to 'give up', that my novel was published. For some time I had felt a growing tension between my need to find more work, my family and my own writing. Perhaps I was simply discovering the truth behind the old adage, 'two's company, three's a crowd'. Something had to give. Rejections are not easy to stomach at the best of times and despite the fact that I felt writing was my path in life, I also felt that I simply couldn't take any more rejections. I felt beaten down by them and bitter that the beauty of the creative process was being overwhelmed by the ugly realities of a market driven world. It was also hard for my husband and children to watch my frustration and frequent despair. All this was compounded by the fact that my agent ran out of publishers to send my novel to and set it aside.
Much to their astonishment, I announced to my family that I was giving up writing. With that decision came a sense of letting go as I took my attention away from rejections and simply accepted where I found myself. Not long after that the little miracles began. First, a creative writing student of mine who was gifted with a strong intuitive ability, unexpectedly announced that my novel (called at that time Lucky Road) had not found a publisher because I needed to change its title. I took little notice of this, but that evening mentioned it to my husband, who immediately suggested, Gathering Storm. I will never forget the feeling of rightness that came over me when I heard that title. The next day a friend mentioned to me that a new publisher had joined Penguin. I emailed my agent to suggest that we try one more time, and within weeks I had an enthusiastic offer of publication and importantly, a passport to keep writing.
Gathering Storm was reasonably successful; it sold well, gained critical acclaim and was published in translation in the Netherlands. On that basis, I simply assumed that publishing the next novel would be straight forward. I was wrong. Flight was too different from my previous novel and didn't fit with the direction in which my publisher wanted me to go. It was rejected and I found myself floundering once again. It's always harder to go through something a second time, particularly when it is unexpected. I battled with myself. Should I write what was expected of me or should I follow my heart? This was a particularly difficult decision at the time, with a building global economic crisis and a publishing industry in flux. In the end I had no choice, my heart won but it meant another bombardment of rejection slips and the onset of a deep-rooted weariness that came close to stopping me from writing again. It was a publisher at HarperCollins who finally rescued me and for that I will be eternally grateful. There is nothing more special than when someone really 'gets' your novel, and she 'got' Flight. She was patient too, waiting as I honed the novel to its final form and trusting that I would do it well. The journey since then has been smooth but I won't make the mistake again of assuming that it will always be this way. The wheel of fortune turns and there is nothing we can do to stop it.
So what have I learned from this? Paradoxically, I have learned not to give up but also to let go. And I have learned that above and beyond outcomes, the importance of writing lies in the process itself, something that is difficult to remember when writing and the need for an income become entwined as mine has for some time. During those years of rejections I edited and assessed other people's manuscripts, mentored a good number of people and taught many creative writing workshops and courses. I still do. It has been a great privilege to teach and to work with aspiring writers. In that time I have been constantly touched by people's faith in me. I have learned a lot about myself and about the creative process, which no doubt has informed my own work and made me a better and more courageous writer. I have learned patience, how to savor the journey of writing and not reach out impatiently for the destination. And hopefully I have helped some writers to find their voices. Looking back over these years I see that though I often felt in limbo, actually there was good reason for fate to unfold in this way. Now, given the opportunity, I wouldn't change anything. Perhaps that's the greatest lesson of all.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:http://writeonthefringes.blogspot.co.uk/