At UCLA when I wanted to switch from Theatre Arts to Creative Writing, I had to take an Intro to Creative Writing course. This was the mid to late 80’s and everybody was very Goth at the time and the cool, clever, real writers all wore black and slouched, or spoke in whispers of intellectual boredom. I was in a sorority and while I didn’t wear bubblegum pink, I certainly didn’t wear black and I did badly in the class. My professor liked nothing I wrote. I barely passed the class and remember his scathing criticism of my stories today ‘who writes such sentimental crap?’
Uh, Professor, let me raise my hand. I do.
Needless to say I did not become a Creative Writing major and moved from Theatre Arts to American Studies, a program combining the study of American literature and American history. It was a good fit for me and I graduated more or less happy.
Years later I earned my MA in Writing from University of San Francisco, only after being turned down by Fresno State’s graduate studies program in Creative Writing. Apparently I showed some talent but not enough to study at the school.
University of San Francisco was a good place to learn and it allowed me to teach during the day while study at night. I did that for two years and left school with more confidence, a 900 page medieval manuscript titled The Falconer’s Daughter, and hopes that one day I’d be a successful fiction writer.
It took more than a decade after earning that MA to get that first sale to Harlequin Presents. That’s a lot of years of writing and rejection.
Fortunately, there’s a lesson in all the writing and rejection. I did, eventually, succeed. People enjoy my books. My editors love my work. Succeeding as a writer isn’t always about natural talent. Sometimes it boils down to persistence.
I’ve just finished doing a month of speaking, and the bottom line for writers is this—if you want to make it, don’t quit. Because you can guarantee you won’t get published if you stop writing and/or fail to submit.
But doesn’t the rejection hurt, you ask? Oh, God, yes. Getting rejected manuscripts back was like being flailed with a barbed Smith-Corona typewriter. It hurts. Not just mentally, but spiritually, and physically. We writers spend inordinate amounts of time sitting still, getting our thoughts down. It’s brutal.
Which is why those that succeed in this business aren’t always the most gifted (although there are plenty brilliant), but rather, the most stubborn. The most determined. The most arrogant (They refuse to give up, and can not accept that they can not succeed at something they’ve determined to do.)
I succeeded simply because I couldn’t not succeed. I couldn’t accept that I wouldn’t someday, one day, get it together. I succeeded because those critical professors and literary snobs at our American universities were not going to define me, my talent, or my opportunities. I succeeded because I embraced being commercial, embraced the mainstream, embraced everything to do with writing satisfying fiction.
Life isn’t about living for others, or doing what they want you to do. Life is about doing what you want to do. Life is about defining it and making it yours. Making it fulfilling.
Don’t let criticism or rejection stop you. Not if you want to write.
Not if you want to live a rich interesting life.