One of the most painful parts of being a writer is rejection. But is it a bad thing to be rejected? Or is it a gift of navigation? Did the editors not understand your brilliance, your humor, your fate? Was that it? Or did you rush off a piece that was unpolished and would not fit their criteria in the first place? I tend to think it’s the latter. And I’ve often made that mistake.
The first rejection letter I received sent me into a funk for weeks. But what pulled me free was to think of my sister Janie. And the time we spent in trees. Which may seem like a stretch, but it is, after all, the characters, settings, events, and perspectives that make a writer’s story unique. Only my memories can be divined for solace as I think.
So I thought of the day on Sunny Lane when Janie scurried too high in a tree. A middle child and fearless tomboy, she spent most of her time outside, with me (the youngest) trailing close behind. On this day though, unable to follow, I stopped halfway as she climbed and climbed to the top of a tree. And then I heard a snap, a whoosh, and a thud. And then silence.
When neighborhood kids realized what happened, they scattered about the yard and shrieked. In less than a minute, someone ran towards the house for my mother. But for the first few seconds after Janie hit the ground, time blurred as in a dream, and then stretched into long minutes of utter stillness and quiet. In other words, I freaked.
Janie slipped in and out of consciousness for over an hour. We kept a vigil round her bed, cool rags upon her head. (Parents didn’t rush off to hospitals in those days.) When fully awakened, she remembered nothing of her misstep: the snap, the whoosh, or the thud sound she made. Bruised, sore, unsteady on her feet, she viewed the fall not as an accident, but a defeat.
As dust scattered sunlight to paint the sky pink, my sister and I returned to the tree. And I watched as she rose with determination to sway and wave from the top down to me. Up and down she climbed a number of times for her own satisfaction. But with each ascent she carved an indelible lesson.
And though it may be a cliché, with its ups and downs and bruising mistakes, a writer’s life is like climbing a tree. So I’ve had many occasions to remember that day on Sunny Lane. With every blunder and rejection, I summon Janie’s inspiration: the gift of navigation. So I revise and rewrite. And refuse to be beat.