Ode To a Rejection Letter


Yesterday, I got a rejection letter for a book proposal. This is par for the course. Rejection is part of the writing and publishing process.

Then I had an existential crisis and ate two Wendy’s Frosties. Also par for the course.

It isn’t so much the rejection that bothers me about this process (though that certainly isn’t pleasant) as much as the uncertainty. I have given birth to a 40,000-word darling whose fate remains unclear. Will she grow up and leave the nest? Will anyone else see the beauty I see in her? Will she take a suitor? Give birth to another darling? Or while away her waning years in dusty obscurity on my hard drive? I don’t know how her story turns out and that makes me nervous.

My friend Scott has thought quite a lot about this feeling. A few years ago, I was facing another personal crisis — this one not involving writing but probably still involving anesthetic amounts of soft serve — and I discussed it with Scott. I remember he said, “I know you’re eager for a resolution, but don’t miss the best part of the story you’re in because you’re in a hurry to get to the end.”

Easy for him to say. He’s not the one holding the rejection letter (read: pink slip, Dear John, test results, or invoice to suit your circumstance).

But he was right.

Why am I so eager to skip to the end of this story? I never do that in any other endeavor. In fact, in every other story but my own, I hate knowing the end. It ruins the journey. I won’t read a book if I’ve seen the movie. I won’t watch a game on DVR if I already know the final score. I can’t stand those people who read the final page of a novel before they read every page before it.

So why would I ruin my own story by skipping the conflict?

In almost every great story, the conflict last longer, and costs more, than we expect. Captain Ahab gives not just his ship but his life and many men to kill the great whale. Bilbo travels farther than we thought possible and has to bury Thorin before he can get back again. Joseph goes to prison. Atticus loses the case. And Jesus is wrongfully executed. Even the chapter of God’s story where we currently find ourselves has lasted longer than we expected. Paul wrote “the time is short…this world in its present form is passing away” and yet here we are. Jesus lingers and our resolution is rescheduled.

There’s a sense in which the longer my publishing story lasts, the better it becomes. Of course, this is an easy idea to embrace in a story where the conflict is over rejected manuscripts. But what if the story has higher stakes? What if your story is about someone who rejected you? Someone who rejected their parenthood? Someone who rejected their vows? Someone who rejected life itself? The message of “hang in there; the resolution is worth the conflict” seems less potent in the face of such towering villains as orphanage, betrayal, death. But its impotence portends its beauty. If you knew your story’s ending — if “happily ever after” was the most likely outcome — then your story wouldn’t be worth telling.

For my part, I’m doing my best to trust that God is only interested in telling beautiful stories. He might tell me one that involves a book contract. He might tell you one that involves reconciliation. Or he might tell us a story even more beautiful than that. I’m okay with whatever story God chooses to write.

As long as there are Frosties.

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