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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

New Book Update: The Gift of Being Rejected


Thank you to the Loft Literary Center for offering and to agent Kelly Van Sant for teaching the online Query Comprehensive class where I revised (and revised again and again) my query letter.

I wasn’t sure I needed a comprehensive class; after all, I knew the basics. But the timing was ideal — I had just finished compiling my preliminary list of agents and waiting a few weeks to start sending queries wouldn’t be a big delay. And the opportunity to get feedback from an agent I wanted to query before sending the official query to her was too good to pass up.

In the first week of class, I was relieved I did know the basics. In the subsequent weeks, I was (and still am) grateful to learn nuances of query-writing and more than I realized I needed to know about researching agents.

I’ll admit I felt a bit smug about some of the rookie mistakes other writers (no one in our class) had made. Then I recognized a “Don’t do this” as something I had done years ago. My smugness turned to embarrassment. Often agents decline because a project isn’t a good fit for them, but when I recognized the blunders I’d made in queries I sent years ago, I cringed. No wonder I got rejection letters!

I’ve come to realize it’s okay that I sent cringe-worthy queries and okay that I was rejected. The current version of my novel is so significantly improved, I’m relieved I didn’t publish the earlier version. I’m grateful I didn’t sign with an agent willing to settle for that level of craft from me.

I suppose I could have signed with an agent who helped me revise or I could have published the novel as it was and improved my craft on the next book. I could have failed sooner and moved on sooner. (more about failing better at my guest post on BookBaby Blog)

But the truth is, there were scenes in the earlier version that I knew in my heart of hearts were clichéd and strained. Some pieces are worth the effort of improving; some pieces are better left as is so you can move on and improve your craft on the next piece. Only you can decide which of your pieces are which. My novel was worth the effort of a substantial revision.

We have to be willing to be embarrassed, surprised, dismayed or even amused when we look back at our best efforts from years ago. It’s a sign that we’ve learned along the way.

Complacency about your work from a decade ago may mean you peaked early, but it’s just as likely to mean your writing has stagnated and you’re missing opportunities to develop your craft.

We don’t have to be grateful for being told “No thanks,” but I find gratitude makes it easier to see that “No thanks” can mean “You can do better.”

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