Friday, February 1, 2013

WHAT I FINALLY GOT THROUGH MY THICK SKULL (HOLLY SCHINDLER)


I began my full-time pursuit of publication in the spring of ’01, just after receiving my master’s.  I was convinced I’d get published quickly…I’d already placed short fiction, poetry, and literary critique in a few journals while I was still a student, I’d consistently been referred to as one of the better writers in the English program in my university, and—if I’m to be completely honest—I hadn’t really failed at much of anything.  I was the typical Type A-er, racking up straight A’s.  Anytime I decided to try something new—take up another instrument, put together a garage band, do a little modeling around town—I never really encountered much in the way of an obstacle.  That’s not to say I didn’t work hard.  I just hadn’t heard many “no”s.

A year into my pursuit of book-length publication, the only thing I had heard was “no.”  When the spring of ’02 rolled around, I hadn’t had a single piece of work accepted.  Same for ’03.  Spring of ’04, I watched the graduation footage on the news and couldn’t help feeling like a complete and total…failure.  Ditto for ’05.  By ’06, I felt like the entire world had moved on—everyone I knew from college had wrapped up advanced degrees, were teaching, moving on in their lives.  I swore all I had was a hole in my office wall shaped like my skull, because I’d spent five years banging my head against it.  Spring of ’07, graduation rolled around again—still without a single acceptance.  And I very much felt like I was someone who had once been—but was no longer—an overachiever.  Spring of ’08, and I was still in the same place I’d been seven years earlier.  Still getting papered with rejections.  Piles and piles of failures.  Giant red “F”s.  More than a thousand of them in all.

…Late in ’08 (around Thanksgiving), things started to pick up.  By early ’09, I’d signed two deals: one with a publishing house for my first YA novel and one with an agent offering representation.  I didn’t jump for joy as much as I breathed a sigh of complete and utter relief.  

Seven and a half years it took just to ink those first deals.  And if I could do anything over again, it’d be this: I would not beat myself up for the time it took me to get there.  What I finally got through my thick skull after I’d signed a few contracts—and had that whole 20 / 20 hindsight thing going for me—is that success comes in external and internal varieties.  A book on the store shelves?  That’s definitely an external success.  But writing something that gets an editor’s attention, that makes her write a personal note along with her rejection, and then taking that rejection to heart, learning from it, and revising?  That’s a success, too—an internal success. 

Looking back, I can now see the myriad of ways that I grew between ’01 and ’09; I can see the hundreds—thousands—of  internal successes I racked up, even when those rejections were pouring in.  I’m proud of my published books and of the awards and reviews I’ve snagged.  But I have to admit, I’m every bit as proud of my internal successes, too. 

13 comments:

  1. Good story. Mine is similar. I wish writers and all creatives, really, would stop beating themselves up over success and failure.

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  2. Okay, I am done beating myself up. Onwards. Thank you for this post. I've been feeling rather dismayed lately. This helps.

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  3. This is a demanding craft. My apprenticeship was also measured in years, not months. And I think this is typical. And I think too many of us despair that it *should* happen faster. But as my friend Kelly Fineman often reminds me, "It takes as long as it takes."

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  4. I think the fact that you kept writing and sending your work out shows how committed you are to writing, and that in itself is a success. It's good that you didn't let go of writing, or maybe it didn't let go of you, so to speak. :)

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  5. Glad you kept on writing! :) Thanks for sharing your story... the internet is inundated with *quick* publishing stories, and after a while, it can really be a damper to writers when they're struggling with the whole "is this even worth it anymore" stuff. But seeing a story like yours is proof that sometimes, it's just not your time... until it is! :)

    Jessica

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  6. I'm so glad this post helped! I'm a firm believer that all writers get there eventually...the only ones who don't are the ones who throw in the towel.

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  7. Thanks for sharing this, Holly. Like you, I've been successful in many things but I only began writing fiction in 2000. I didn't query often and the few rejections were personal notes and encouraging, so I dug into my novels with the intent to improve and try again later. I can't believe how many years later this is and I'm still writing but not seriously querying. Fear of failure? I don't know. But I have no desire to throw in the towel, so I suppose I should start focusing more on my goals. :)

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    1. You've got to submit! That editorial feedback is the key to growing as a writer...

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  8. The artist's time table is so different and when you're comparing yourself against people in other professions it can be so hard. Reading A BLUE SO DARK right now--which proves you were worth the wait. I love it!

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    1. Thanks so much, Kim! THRILLED you're loving BLUE. And that's so true...the writing life moves at SUCH a different pace.

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  9. My story is similar, Holly, with an even longer timeline. It takes a thick skin to be a writer.

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    1. ELEPHANT skin, Jan! So glad you stuck it out...

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