“They had it too easy.” The old pro said to me, regarding former critique partners who found publishers right away, and a certain amount of fame. That was nice to hear at the time. I’d have loved to have had it ‘too easy’ and found some recognition and immediate gratification for my work, but since it took me a lot longer to reach my goal, it was nice to think there was some virtue in this.
I’d written three full-length novels, only one of which I thought worth shopping around – and an agent did, too – but it met with nothing but rejection. After twenty years, I finally started writing again. I wrote another novel, rewrote it, over and again, with feedback from critique partners, polishing my craft until I had something I thought truly worth reading.
I joined MFW, the local chapter of Romance Writers of America, and met dozens of women who told of writing for years, of putting projects on hold while raising children, of writing and rewriting, having work judged through contests, going to conferences to meet agents, dealing with rejection after rejection… And I witnessed many of these women finally meet their goals, connecting at last with publishers who wanted their work, some doing better sales-wise than others, but all happy to have some vindication for their efforts. At least half a dozen of the writers who’d been unpublished when I joined MFW are published authors today – including me. I have two novels, three novellas and a couple collections of short stories out at this point.
To tell you the truth, I’d have been thrilled to sell that long ago novel right off the bat. I’d be doubly thrilled to have earned some money from it. And also true: my later work is something I’m much more proud of than I was of that generic earlier novel.
At that time nobody had heard of cross-over romances with science-fictional and fantasy elements. I had always loved f/sf, and writing a romance that ignored my own proclivity produced something much less than it could have been – a nice story, but lacking the enthusiasm I later brought to the table when writing stories including the magic of fairy godmothers or powerful djinn, superheroes and world-spanning challenges. I brought more of myself to my later work. I brought my sense of magic, my sense of wonder and my passion for big ideas. I brought a new determination and the quiet, persistent power that comes from persevering through setback after setback and picking oneself up from one failure or rejection after another to stay the course.
The characters in my stories benefit (and suffer) from my experience. It’s all well and fine to start out with blithe characters of good heart, but I want them to grow in the course of a story, and having been through the process myself, I can do better with taking them through it.
One of my first short stories placed in a contest early in my career, one of the first stories I’d ever submitted anywhere – which made it all the harder for me when that first novel met with nothing but rejection. I’d gotten an inflated idea of my abilities, and when it was punctured, I went decades before taking up my pen again in any serious way. I’d taken the failure too much too heart. I started writing again at last because it was something I wanted to do for my own amusement and fulfillment. It wasn’t until I’d established myself in the practice that I made a goal again of bringing my work to publication.
I don’t know in any ultimate sense whether my one-time critique partners really had it too easy at the start of their careers. Life puts us all through trials of one sort or another. Where one aspect of life comes easy, others may come very hard indeed. If one success comes too easy, it makes it all the harder to face rejections later on. If their first publications in fact came too easy, I’ve no doubt that time corrected any issues that may have engendered. And, at this point, I don’t need comfort for having taken a longer road.