If you’ll remember, one of my nineteen Ideal Life Themes is Making Wise Decisions. This means that every three weeks, on a certain day, I am supposed to take five minutes and see how things are going in terms of making wise decisions.
Usually, there isn’t a ton of decision making going on…my life is generally fairly quiet and devoid of life-altering decisions to be made.
On a typical rotation, I will ask myself my questions: What is working? What isn’t working? What do I need to think about? What can I do today to get closer to my Ideal Life in this area? And on a typical rotation, I might think of ways to tweak a habit, or decide I need to cut the sugar out of my coffee or that I need to not take my five year-olds tantrums so personally.
This week is not like that.
The fear of rejection
You may or not remember this, but at the end of March, I got a call from my MIL. She had been reading something and had felt compelled to call me and read it to me. I wish I could remember it all, but it said something to the effect that “If we fear rejection we will never accomplish any of our big dreams.”
She knew, as you know, that I fear rejection above everything and anything else. I have lived my life in such a way so as to avoid being rejected both personally and professionally. Perfectionism, non-existent boundaries, tireless work ethic.
If, up until then, I had not sent the manuscript of my first fully edited novel out into the world, it was because I was terrified of rejection. That book, and the series of books that follows it, is the written trace of my entrails. Rejection of that book would be a rejection of me, and I had been so wrapped up in my own entrails to be willing to let myself be rejected.
With my MIL’s unexpected encouragement, I knew that I had to act. So I researched publishers who had open submissions windows for unpublished authors and I sent it to a smallish publisher in the UK. I was supposed to hear back in 6-8 weeks. I didn’t.
If you know anything about me by now, it is that I have no shortage of creative projects to occupy my time. In the intervening months, I have written three short stories, I wrote one article per day for 112 days straight, recorded the first few episodes of my podcast, learned a new software for sound editing, distributed the first completed episode to 15 test listeners, played in a string quartet for the first time in 25 years, made a dress out of a duvet cover, a blouse out of baby swaddle and have recorded more than sixty one-minute videos (in English and in French) on the Ideal Life Exercises in my Instagram Reels.
My boys have been on vacation for half that time since I submitted my novel to that smallish publisher. Assuming that they would never get back to me, before school ended in July, I had started researching agents both in the US and in the UK who might be willing to represent an aspiring novelist, and who might be as excited about the series as I am, based on their current portfolio of writers they represent.
I had decided that once everyone was back in school, I was going to start querying those literary agents, because I had a sense of destiny about the process.
What I really, really needed, though, was that first letter of rejection from that first publisher.
This process was very much about me learning how to deal with rejection. Me learning to get unwrapped-up in my novel. Me learning how it feels to be rejected and learning how to deal with it in a healthy way.
Except that, on Monday of this week, I got a letter saying that this smallish publisher would like to publish my book.
I, of course, was very, very very very very very very very very excited. At first.
I daydreamed through a long-jump session with my eldest on the sandy path outside my in-laws’ house. I got to thinking about how I had told myself that I could truly call myself an author once I had my first rejection letter in hand, and that something seemed off about this.
I had never really intended to publish one book with some smallish publisher in the UK. What I really wanted was an agent who would see the whole series as something as epic as I do: eight novels, each which can stand on their own as exquisite little gems, but taken together have an epically satisfying ending that builds on the previous books. Worldbuilding that pulls the reader out of himself, but character development that, at every twist, sharpens the lens on the reader’s own psyche.
That’s all I want. By the time I woke up the next morning, I knew I couldn’t accept this offer. I needed to keep searching until I found that agent.
Making wise decisions
I have a few questions I ask myself when it comes to decisions….that is, when I need to actually make them.
Here they are:
1. What is the ultimate result of this decision? –Book One gets published.
2. Is *that* what I want? –that is not all I want, no. Why or why not? –I am not interested in just “being a published author”. It isn’t about me. It is about the world and the characters and who they become and the change they experience and their conflicts and it is, especially, about the epic ending in Book Eight. What I want is Book Eight to be published. But it can’t be without all the others.
3. Gut check: do I have any random reservations? If so…listen to them and think them through. –obviously I do, see above.
4. Under what circumstances will I regret doing it? –When this book gets published by a publishing house with little influence or renown, who may or may not be satisfied with just publishing this one book.
5. How would I feel if I had to live with the regret of not doing it? —honestly, this letter has motivated me to believe that there may just be someone out there who could believe in my book, in my series, in me as an author with the ability to bring those lofty promises to fruition.
6. What part of my Ideal Life is being fed by it? –definitely my Work Life, but also, in a strange way, my Mental Health. My fear of rejection has so long defined how I behave, that declining one offer in order to seek out possible further rejection seems like exactly the kind of exercise I should be doing to improve my Mental Health.
7. What are my next steps? Next steps: decline the offer and start querying literary agents.
There you have it.
Am I crazy? An old friend told me I am “a madwoman–but only in the best of ways.” I take that person quite seriously, so I guess that maybe I am a little bit.
Now, there is only to start knocking on doors; now, there is only to find the right door, with the right person behind it, who is maybe as mad as I am.