E.E. Cummings dedicated his book of 70 poems, “No Thanks” to well, ‘No Thanks.’
Some argue that rejection is a part of the writing process. Personally, I've always felt rejection hinders creativity. Each and every single time I got my ‘No Thanks’ email from an editor or agent, my will to write and my fragilely accumulated self-esteem would wash away with my tears.
So when an editor replied to my full manuscript with, “yada, it’s great, yada, yada BUT…” I braced myself for the inevitable sting of rejection. And it was there. But she returned my manuscript lightly edited and gave me two pieces of advice.
- Remove as many passive verbs as possible – was, were, could, should, would, etc. She mentioned an easy way to eliminate most ‘was’s is to change ‘was <>ing’ verbs to ‘<>ed’ verbs. For example: He was walking à He walked
- Show don’t tell.
I know. I know exactly what you’re thinking with #2. Heard that before? Me too. I thought I’d done a great job of showing, not telling. But I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
For example, in my original submitted manuscript, I had the following opening paragraph for a chapter:
The disturbing pinch of gravel digging into my cheeks and the full body throb of pain were the first things I felt. The sweet tang of pine and fresh blood were the first things I smelled. The dirt, unfortunately, was the first thing I tasted. I heard nothing. The forest was silent—too silent.
There I was, patting myself on the back, thinking, “NAILED it!” and “Look at all the senses!” After I received my rejection email, I looked at it more critically. Look at all the passive verbs!
The disturbing pinch of gravel digging into my cheeks and the full body throb of pain were the first things I felt. The sweet tang of pine and fresh blood were the first things I smelled. The dirt, unfortunately, was the first thing I tasted. I heard nothing. The forest was silent—too silent.So I rewrote, taking out the passive verbs.
I felt the disturbing pinch of gravel, digging into my cheeks. I smelled the sweet tang of pine and fresh blood. I tasted dirt. I heard nothing. The forest was silent—too silent.
But it felt flat. I scratched my head and wondered what I was doing wrong. Why do I suck SO much?
Then the answer hit me
Because I’m just telling the reader what she felt, smelled and tasted. I’m not describing it, I’m not showing it. I ended up rewriting this section as follows:
Air scraped through my lungs as I sucked it in. The sharp tightening around my chest made breathing difficult. I couldn’t do it fast enough to fill the empty feeling inside. Slowly, I drew in more air. The sweet tang of pine and fresh blood flooded my senses and the clamp around my lungs loosened a little.
I pried my eyelids open, fluttering my lashes against the ground, trying to get the dirt out. Sharp pebbles dug into my face. I brushed them away when I lifted my head. And stopped. Blood covered my hands. I sat up and held them out, spreading my fingers. The blood stuck to my skin, partially dried and muddled with dirt. Mine? Clint’s?
The dirt in the mouth part comes in a few paragraphs later:
A dank earthy taste filled my mouth. I turned to the side and spat out dark brown soil and pebbles, leaving my mouth dry and gritty. I ran my tongue over my front teeth and spat again.
Is it perfect? Not likely. But I definitely feel it has improved. The editor must’ve agreed, because when I resubmitted my revised manuscript, she offered me a contract. Shift Happens: A Carus Novel will be published by The Wild RosePress. Release date, TBA.
So the point of this post, aside from sharing my debacles in writing? Every so often, one of the ‘No Thanks,’ might be accompanied with a tiny tidbit of advice or information that will eventually lead to stronger writing and a contract.
Maybe rejection IS a part of the writing process after all.
What do you think? Is rejection a part of the process?
P.S. For more fun dedications, read my previous blog post