Note from Aimee: As we traverse through stories and journeys, I find myself saying time and time again I am touched, humbled, honored that you all share them with me and others. Allowing us pictures into your lives at these vulnerable places. There is in some ways nothing more vulnerable than the subject of this post, which hits right where the entire point of this series comes from and hits it hard. What about the stories that do not get told? There is no expiration on the publishing dream, the ever-not-so-helpful anecdotes say. Except for, well, That One. No one wants to talk about That One, present company included. But it’s time to rectify that, so onward we bravely go, thanks to this next author.
Content Warning: This post briefly mentions/explores topics of mortality and dementia.
Mortality and Milestones
By: David Wulatin (Follow David on Twitter @MisterHand1)
I got my first rejection from an agent in 1990. At a 1998 writers retreat, an Oscar nominated screenwriter gave an in-person critique of my screenplay and told me, “There was one part that wasn’t terrible.” I shelved a novel in 2019 after getting 150 rejections for it. I never received an agent like in any Twitter pitch contest, never got accepted into Pitch Wars or any other mentor program.
But there have been some low points, too.
I’ve been openly discussing my failures and setbacks in the Twitter writing community for several years, but my followers are few in number, due in equal parts to a lack of success, a refusal to participate in writer lifts, and a penchant for takes that are only funny in small doses:
A person can only take so much of that before pursuing the friendlier confines of, “What assortment of donuts would your MC choose for a baker’s dozen?”
Hopefully at this point I’ve established my Grumpy Old Writer bona fides. (If you’re unconvinced, I’ve got a great little rant about why I’ll never use the word “redirection” in place of rejection.)
But not too old. Because it’s never too late to pursue your dreams. I used to doubt that, but who am I going to believe? The older self-published writers who aren’t pursuing traditional publishing? Or the actuarial table that gives me about 27 more years before I die, and the family history of dementia that could make that window even narrower?
This is the part that doesn’t get talked about much. It’s not something people in my position want to think about, and it’s not something that any author who has reached any traditional publishing milestone can understand. Because once you reach that milestone, you’ll never know what it’s like to go all your life without achieving it.
“But I remember!” Not the same. “But it took me so long before it happened” But it happened. And once it happens, you’re not one of us and never can be again. The never published, the never rep’ped. The tried until they quit. Or died. In other words, most of us.
Most don’t want to talk about that, including the kind host of this platform, who characterized the voices that needed to be heard the most as the “…not yet successful.” Even she can’t quite let go of the idea that this lack of success for those of us who haven’t achieved the milestones is a temporary (albeit long-lasting) state.
The Cult of Persistence is hard to get out of. Persistence is a prerequisite to success, not a guarantee. I lost hope of achieving those milestones years ago. I’m also in the final stages of revisions and plan to start querying another novel next month. I don’t need hope to keep trying.
When I said, “There were some low points, too” earlier in the piece, it wasn’t (just) a throwaway gag. There were much lower points than the ones I mentioned in the first paragraph. There were seventeen years of no serious writing, where the only creative outlet I felt comfortable exploring was writing adventures to run with my gaming group at Gen Con.
So I can compare a life with writing to a life without writing. For me, a life with writing is better. Even a life without achieving those milestones. Or a life without hope of achieving them.
Bio: Mister Hand is a married servant of two cats and works as a school crossing guard and dog walker. He breaks up the monotony of agent rejections by occasionally getting short pieces published in McSweeney’s and an upcoming issue of American Bystander. Follow him on Twitter @MisterHand1