This week we have a guest blog from Michele Baker, a woman who cares passionately about her writing. She writes:
After ten years of writing, rewriting and rejection, The Beggar King – my first novel – is about to hit bookstore shelves. I suppose you could say this is a story about persistence, and it is – but it’s also about why it’s sometimes a good thing for a writer to hear the word ‘No.’
The Beggar King is a fantasy novel for young adults. Before beginning this project, I had written two novels (my practice novels, I like to call them) but I’d never written a word of fantasy. I had no appreciation for the time and effort that needed to go into building an entire world out of nothing. After all, it took God seven days. How hard could it be?
Well, hard, as it turns out. Building a world takes time. It has to deepen and be enriched by multiple drafts, by dozens of scenes that may never make it into the final draft but that allow you, the writer, to know your setting the way you know your own home. Your world has to be fitting, and logical, and consistent. And it has to be original. One of my reader-friends had a shorthand word that she would write in the margins of my manuscript: LOTR. Meaning, I was copying Tolkien and had better rethink.
And rethink I did. Over the years I learned the true meaning of the word revision: re-vision, a new way of looking at my story. Sometimes this meant making a list of the things that were working and carrying them over into an entirely new draft. The process was scary and heart-breaking but absolutely necessary.
Through it all, I was sending my novel out – first with an agent, and then without one (she gave up after a few years, and who could blame her?). One publisher had me rewrite the book three times, and then said no. Another said yes, then changed his mind. But in the second case I was extremely lucky because this ‘no’ came with excellent advice. It took a few days for me to see past my despair and listen to what this person had said about my book. But once I began to work with his suggestions, I could see that he was right. It meant huge changes which took the better part of a year to incorporate properly, but by the end of it I had a manuscript that people were beginning to pay attention to. Suddenly publishers were asking to read the whole thing. And after approximately forty-seven no’s I heard a much sweeter word from Thistledown Press: yes.
I think back to the anguish and frustration I went through over the years, how hard it was to keep going after so many rejections. I now know those publishers all did me a favour. They forced me to work harder, to keep making the manuscript better. It’s never easy to have your work rejected. And I certainly can’t pretend that I always put a brave face on the whole experience while it was happening. But I have vowed to remember that ‘no’ can be a great incentive to learn more, work harder, improve my writing…at least until the next rejection letter arrives in my mailbox.