The ballet teacher I worshipped gave us no warning. “Line up against the wall, ladies! A photographer is going to come and pick three of you for a wrist-watch advertisement.” We all shuffled in our soft pink shoes to the side of the room. I remember standing tall, shoulders back and neck long, just like we’d been taught. I could play the part of a young ballerina pirouetting around a Rolex watch.
Pick me! Pick me! Pick me! I willed myself to be chosen as the photographer scrutinized us all, peering through his camera at our feet in tendu. After pacing before us like a butcher choosing prime cuts, he picked three petite ballerinas, all with strawberry blonde hair and perky, turned-up noses.
It was 1979. My first rejection. You never forget your first.
When I wasn’t chosen to be one of the background ballerinas, I cried in the bathroom alone. I had the idea that I wasn’t supposed to be upset in front of anyone else. Rejection is shameful, I thought, so I buried it like the dirty tights at the bottom of my ballet bag.
I don’t really do that anymore. Now, I publish my rejection stories on my blog for the whole world to read.
So, the latest:
Yesterday, I got a form rejection letter from a literary agent whom I queried on Monday. When her email came in, I was at the half-way point on a six-mile run. Seconds before I checked my email, I was gazing at Lake Michigan’s rolling waves underneath a vast and flawless sunny sky. I literally had this thought: There’s nothing wrong with me that the beauty in this moment can’t heal. How blessed I am to be here right now.
PING! I glanced down at my phone in my sweaty palm and saw, “Thank you for your submission, unfortunately …”
I laughed. How could I not laugh at the timing? It felt like a test—do I still feel blessed? Do I still find spiritual solace in the beauty all around me?
Answer: Hell yes. More than ever.
The email passing on my novel said all of these things to me:
- You’ve gotten your first rejection over with! You never have to have your first again.
- You’re on your way—you are doing it, and rejection is part of “doing it”.
- Now you get to see how badly you really want this.
- You’re putting yourself out there. *applause*
- You’ve taken a huge leap forward to arrive at the stage where people can judge (and reject) your work.
- Rejection won’t kill you—it may not even hurt that much. (Yet)
- You’re brave.
- Your query needs more work.
- You need to ask others to help you jazz up the query.
- You’re on your way.
I don’t know how I’ll feel ten or twenty rejections down the road. I’m sure at that point I’ll Google other authors’ rejection tales – J.K. Rowling, Kathryn Stockett, Stephen King, etc. Then, I’ll immerse myself in the writings of Anne Lamott and Brene Brown and gnash about. I’ll be insufferable. I’ll eat too much peanut butter. I’ll threaten to stop writing altogether. Maybe I actually will.
Until then, I’m celebrating the rejection because the other great truth of it is this: I’ve been rejected for lots of things I didn’t really want (see on-line dating fiascos, Vice President of the student body in 1990) that it’s nice to at least be trying for the things I do want.
I’m in the game.
It feels amazing.