On Rejection

Walking to practicum, my cell phone in one hand and Perks of Being a Wallflower in the other, I check my email, and I see that I’ve got a response from an agent who just requested a partial.

The way I get with agents is a lot like the way I get when I have a crush on someone. I’ve read pages of this woman’s Twitter account, and like twenty interviews on how she chooses clients, and also tales of her happy clients and their successful lives as writers. I’m attached to the idea of this woman representing me.

And, similar to my crushes, knowing I’ve got a message pending is an emotional rollercoaster. Only, it’s an unfinished roller coaster that inevitably sends me plummeting to my death. Thing is, I’m already on the rollercoaster whether I like it or not, and even if I think I know what’s at the end of the track, I’ve got no choice but to keep going.

So I open the email, and I read it.

That’s when it hits me, a gust of existential angst unlike anything I’ve felt since I was a teenager. For a moment, I wonder if there’s even a point to anything at all. Why bother writing when all that’s waiting for me is rejection after rejection after rejection? My whole emotional bomb shelter, built up by years of being told I just wasn’t what people were looking for right now, suddenly came crashing down around me.

It’s hard to breathe, it’s hard to move, and it’s hard to exist at all.

Then it’s over. I’m at practicum and I turn my phone off and put my book away, and I get to work thinking, “Shit, that was weird.”

It’s been a long time since I took being turned down that hard, even if it lasted all of thirty seconds. (I don’t know if being at the emotionally-draining ending of Perks really helped.)

In grade eight, I dated three girls. Each of them dumped me. By the time the third one told me it wasn’t going to work, I was a wreck, spending lunch time with my forehead pressed against my desk while she was literally sitting right there because we had the same group of friends.

My next few romantic rejections, that’s just how it went. Walking through the woods, crying, singing along poorly to indie pop love songs (the kind where love is always tragic, flawed, and impossible to maintain.) Crying more.

When I began taking writing seriously, it was a bit like that. Less crying and singing along to “The Bleeding Heart Show”, but enough to stop me writing entirely when I was told I used commas like William Shatner.

There was a lot of struggling to rediscover the point of it all.

But eventually, you harden. Like calluses on your knuckles. And you can handle things a little bit better. Never great, but better. By the sixtieth magazine or agent rejection, it was okay, because I would just write something else or submit somewhere else. I would move on.

The only way to succeed is to make it through the rejections. And the only way to better handle rejection is to be rejected.

Sometimes I do worry about hardening too much, becoming cold and numb to the whole process. That doesn’t seem especially helpful to the passionate process of writing (or loving.) But I won’t turn into a robot overnight, and if yesterday’s agent-related panic was any indication, I’m not as tough as I think anyway.

The point is, even when the pain and sadness piles on top of you and you start to suffocate, you’ve got to crawl back out again. That’s the only option you’ve got.

I urge you, whoever you are, whatever you are struggling to do, don’t give up. Don’t let rejection stop you.*

And I promise I won’t, either.


*Unless you’re doing something non-consensual that harms other people. Don’t be a dick, you guys.

November Writing Update

Dear Diary,

Having a blog is all about pretending you have an audience until you do, eventually, have an audience. Or until you give up and your blogging life fades away along with your hopes and dreams, and you flee to Vegas to become an Elvis impersonator.

So, that’s where I’m at, I guess.

Anyway, in an effort to actually do something with this website I’m paying for, I guess I’ll do a writing update!

Benson and Cactus:

First off, Benson and Cactus made its first appearance at a convention in September! London Comic Con was a fun little introduction to the convention scene. We didn’t get a whole lot of business, but I got to try out manning a booth and talking to people, so it was a learning experience. I was planning on doing a full post about Benson and Cactus on its own, but the B&C train sort of halted to a stop yet again, so I’ll save the full thing until we start to actually put up comic pages. (For now, here’s a link┬áto the website and our bitchin’ trailer.)

Short Stories:

For a long time (after realizing I had a long way to go before anyone wanted to publish me) I only wrote short stories. Some of them found homes, some of them did not because they simply weren’t good enough, and four of them are still out there because I’m convinced they are, in fact, good. Hopefully a fifth is about to join the long journey to publication, as I’m hoping to whip up a story for an anthology before next Sunday. In other short story news, I’m also hoping to post some short stories that couldn’t quite cut it in the real world on this blog, though maybe I shouldn’t be posting sub-par material up here…

At any rate, I’ll definitely be posting my first published story, “Old as the Sun”, closer to Christmas, complete with new illustrations from Benson and Cactus illustrator and 80s nostalgia groupie, Isaac Elliot-Fisher (visit his website here). So far I’ve edited and sent out this fucking story to family and friends every Christmas for five years, so let’s hope I can finally put it to rest.

Shadow of a Boy:

Last November I started writing what I called a “semi-autobiographical fantasy novel” for NaNo. I now call it a “literary fantasy novel” which I hope does not sound just as awful when I query agents. I only wrote around 20 000 words during NaNo, but over the course of this year I remained dedicated to my second book-length project. In June, I finished the first draft. In September, I started querying agents.

Lucky for me, I am no stranger to rejection. In fact, I have six years’ worth of literary rejection, roughly as long as I’ve taken writing seriously. When I wrote my first full work, a novella called The Facility, I foolishly sent out sixty queries and became something of an expert on the failing end of the querying process.

To date, I’ve queried 87 agents regarding Shadow of a Boy.

29 of them have rejected me. Well, 29 of them have told me they’ve rejected me.

Two of them have requested partials though, and one even asked for the full manuscript, though they did end up passing on the project.

I know this book is a hard sell. I’ve known that from the beginning. It’s Canadian fiction, first of all, and it’s way more literary than it is fantasy. Having queried almost every agent I could possibly query about this project, I might be out of luck traditionally if they all pass.

I might end up having to Andy Weir this thing and put up chapters on my blog.

Victory Lap:

I’m also co-authoring a contemporary YA project with my oldest friend, Riley Wood (who you can find on Twitter as @CanuckRiley). Apparently I’m pretty good at writing like a whiny teenager, but without an awful story about a vampire hunter and a hobbit, a less awful story about a Christian junkie and a murderous, masturbating android, and countless hours of ATV: Off Road Fury, this never would have happened.

Secret Project:

And finally, my NaNo project for this year, a TOP SECRET middle grade project about a haunted children’s museum, written with my favourite person, Miranda Moth (found on Twitter as @MirandaMoth). Technically we’re cheating, because we’re two people and we’re not exactly doubling our 50 000 word count goal with a middle grade book. But I’ve always been more concerned about writing a good book and meeting new friends during NaNo than I have with actually winning.

Because I love stretching myself too thin, so I almost hit up another writer friend of mine about retrying our middle grade superhero novel, but I think maybe I’ll wait a bit. After all my collaborating, I’ll probably need some time solo anyway.

As always: agents, hit me up!

Well, that’s it. Blog post accomplished. I’m a winner.