My second novel was rejected and I'm in despair

I spent five years writing this, and now my editor's ditched me!

Published November 30, 2009 2:01AM (EST)

Dear Reader,

I'm writing this early Wednesday morning the day before Thanksgiving. I just had my first good night's sleep in weeks and I'm grateful.

The workshop last night was wonderful and I'm grateful. Yesterday I ran two miles on the beach and I'm grateful. I wrote in the cafe early in the day and I'm grateful. Money came in, so we can pay our bills, and I'm grateful.

I'm not just saying that. I feel good about these things. And today I'm going to drive down to Half Moon Bay for some firewood, because the air is getting cooler on the coast, and I'd better do that now because I may finally sell the truck that I've been trying to sell for two years. Through a bit of serendipity that happened as I sat on the top step yesterday, the painter who painted our house came by and remembered that I'd been trying to sell the truck and wants to buy it. We'll see. That's been a long, long story!

Many marvelous people have come into my life and for that I'm grateful.

It's not a bad thing to be grateful. My mom, bless her heart, had a grudge against the Pilgrims so she wouldn't celebrate Thanksgiving on the designated Thursday; she called it a Jamestown Thanksgiving in honor of what she imagined to be Virginia's more rationalist, Jeffersonian clan, and we held it on the Wednesday or the Friday. She showed us that you can make up your own Thanksgiving, and for that, too, I'm grateful (although it always took some explaining and not everyone got the joke).

Let's be honest. I'm happy to be alive today. There's nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned gratitude list. You make yours and I'll make mine.

No cancer news. Steady as she goes.

Dear Cary,

I am 36 years old. I have a quite stable family life, living with my man and our two kids. It took time and a lot of serious work to get our relationship stable. We were very young and inexperienced when we got our first kid, and I myself had a lot of serious mental shit to sort out. But now we have finally begun to taste some of the sweets of life. We have both grown into ourselves in a good way.

I have an art education, but after finishing my degree I started to write. Five years ago my first novel got published. It did not sell very much -- it sort of just disappeared into a black hole. The reviews it got where fairly good. My second novel has been a struggle, hard to finish. My editor has been very helpful and supportive, but a couple of months ago she ditched me. They won't publish it.

Now I am lost. It's been so much work. For the last five years I have been writing, worked low-paid, part-time jobs, and got our second kid, dealing with my soul and personal journey, getting our love and family life on track, all the time having faith that everything would work out. And things have worked out; I have grown into my own skin, not loathing myself anymore, dealing with life and the people I love in a productive way. So what is my problem? The writing of my second novel has been a big part of my life and my identity for five years. I have never considered giving it up, until now. A part of me is telling me that hey, something good will come out of this, relax, you will be OK. But I am also very scared. What am I without it? I see myself in an endless line of gray, low-paying jobs, and at home folding the laundry, making the dinner, just as before but without the art, my writing, all colors removed.

I do understand that even if I give up this novel it doesn't mean that I cannot write or create ever again, but that is how I feel.

I don't even know what to sign this letter with.

Lost for Words?

Dear Lost for Words,

You've spent five years on something and you've been let down. It is as though you've been lugging a heavy bag of gifts for your mother up a mountain for five years, and you arrive at her door, and she says, Sorry, not interested, the gifts do not impress me. Go home.

So you sit down outside the wall of your mother's castle and ask, Wow, what now? Shit!

As a character in your own story, you must take action that flows from who you are. If you are not sure who you are, use your imagination: What would your ideal person do?

It goes deep. It goes deep because it goes to our mythic, innocent, unprotected self, our child self. But let us not stop there. It also goes to our hero self, the world-beating, unstoppable one.

This is exactly why I was writing yesterday about the connection between the infant's sense of wonder and the artist's well of creativity. The rejection is felt by your true, innocent, unprotected self, the self that requires unconditional love. At this crucial time, you must listen to the wounded innocent and feel that pain and bewilderment.

But you must also invoke the powerful, avenging hero.

It is not just the innocent that helps us write. It is also the warrior. The innocent creates these lovely things and looks up wide-eyed and says, Look! Isn't it beautiful?

The warrior sharpens her arrows deep into the night, checks her armor, practices the kill shot, surveys the opposition, steels herself against fear.

The innocent needs the warrior. Beauty and strength: One without the other is not enough. The empty warrior is like the blinded one-eyed Cyclops, flailing madly in the cave. The unworldly artist is like an infant left in the forest to be eaten. As artists, we need both the innocent and the warrior.

It is good that you have a challenge. If you write one successful novel after another, we are not much interested. We might envy you, but we don't much care what happens -- there is nothing to overcome, nothing to be discovered, no deeper inner resources for the character to find, no ingenuity and problem solving.

We're not interested until there is trouble.

So now you have some trouble. Good. We're interested. We like trouble. Sorry that it is a pain for you, but we are selfish voyeurs; we like your trouble. We can't help it. We understand trouble. We relate to trouble. We understand difficulty and hardship and resistance. We want you to succeed. We want you to succeed because your story touches us. We've been there.

So let me ask you: What does your survival instinct tell you? Do you picture pounding your fists on the wall of your editor's office until she relents? Do you picture laughing it off and finding a new editor? Do you picture going forward with the novel in hand, or writing a new one? What feels right to you? What feels right for your story line? What would your hero do?

Please note that I do not ask what you think you should do. I ask what you feel and what you see. This is not about tactics, but about vision.

Also ask this, for you are not going through this alone: Who is in your corner? Who is on your side? Assemble your army of supporters. Ask them for help. Ask them to help you climb out of this ditch. They will help you.

You do not have to triumph immediately. Such a triumph might come too early. This is only the first act. You may take many more blows yet. What pleases us is how you take the blows and counter adversity, what you show us of character and heart. That doesn't mean that you don't wander, lost, for a bit. It certainly doesn't mean that you don't feel terribly low. We would understand if you did. We want you to respond authentically, but we want you to come out of this.

Whatever your response, it must and will come from your creative, unbeatable, persistent, undaunted, unfazed, life-affirming side, the side of you that dreams of triumph and revels in every sunny day, the side of you that is innocent and optimistic and unafraid.

It might mean that you rewrite the novel. It might mean that you pour your feelings into a new work.

But that you respond to this event from a deep sense of your own truth is crucial -- not just to you, but to your kids, your psyche, your man, your family and, one might say, to your story line, which is to say, the life that you create every day when you wake up.

We, you might say, are the readers of your life.

We want a good ending. It doesn't have to be happy, but it has to be true.

That Special Time of Year

What? You want more advice?

By Cary Tennis

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