Rita Arens: On Writerly Rejection

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Rita Arens. Yes, she is even more effervescent in real life!

I didn’t get an English degree when I went to college the first time. Everyone told me I’d never get a job, and I believed them, so I majored in communications studies instead. After a few years in public relations, I got a job in Kansas City in Internet publishing and enrolled in a graduate writing program, which I told everyone I was doing just for fun.

Because I was scared I would fail.

Gradually over time, I started admitting to myself I really did want to be a professional writer. I baby-stepped my way in by remaking my corporate job from product manager to editorial manager, and I started working on the parenting anthology SLEEP IS FOR THE WEAK, which came out in 2008. Even after that, I still felt like a fraud, because it was an anthology and I was an editor, not an author, and probably people bought that book because of everyone else, not because of me. So the year after SIFTW came out, I started working on my young adult novel.

The Obvious Game by Rita Arens

I’d learned in grad school, or — as I like to think of it — basic training, that workshopping and getting beta readers is really important. It’s just not easy to see the problems in your own writing. But it’s a huge thing to ask someone to read a book-length work and give detailed feedback. I think now I should’ve just paid someone to do it — I certainly will going forward — because I got a lot of my early critiques from the last audience you want it from — literary agents. I wasted some of my best chances on agents who already knew who I was by sending them crappy early drafts. Of course, it’s also possible I wouldn’t have ever sold the book if I hadn’t received early feedback from such talented and capable people, who all resoundingly said UM, NO.

And WOW, DID THAT SUCK.

If anyone said anything that made any sense, though, I tried to act on it. I looked at the manuscript and tweaked. I cut parts they thought seemed jarring or didn’t move the story forward. I started the book in five different places until it seemed more right (where it starts now is where two or three early readers said they really started to get interested in the book — unfortunately, that had formerly been in chapter three).

I spent a lot of time completely certain that no one ever in the history of novelists had been rejected more than I had or had to work harder than I did. I threw pity parties on a weekly basis, sponsored by Franzia. I whined to my husband. Then I went back to revision number 142 and tried again. People stopped asking about the book, because such an embarrassingly long amount of time had passed since they last asked I think they feared I would launch out of my chair and beat them. I stopped talking about it with people because I was mortified that I hadn’t found a publisher yet.

And the rejections and critiques piled up in my inbox and in my spreadsheet and threatened to destroy my confidence forever.

At some point, I realized I wanted this book more than I cared how embarrassed I had to be to get it published. I think that’s what gets things done. In my heart of hearts, I know that for every writer who just knew the right people and was so amazingly talented and writing the right thing at just the right moment, there are hundreds of thousands who are just like me, for whom every victory is hard won. It’s so easy to paint a picture online of a flawless writing career, but there are hundreds of posts I didn’t write because I was too embarrassed to write them. Even now I have moments of horror in which I feel like a terrible imposter presenting herself inaccurately online. I feel like I owe the world a peek at my Spreadsheet of Horror.

The only thing that kept me going was that I wanted it so bad.

Wanting fuels doing, and doing and doing and doing and doing will often result in getting. That’s what I’m telling myself, at least, because I’ve started working on another novel.

About The Author: 

Rita Arens is the author of THE OBVIOUS GAME and the editor of the award-winning parenting anthology SLEEP IS FOR THE WEAK. She writes the popular blog Surrender, Dorothy (www.surrenderdorothyblog.com) and lives in Kansas City with her husband and daughter. THE OBVIOUS GAME is her first young adult novel. She is at work on a second.

Rita has been a featured speaker at BlogHer 2012, BEA Bloggers Conference 2012BlogHer Writers 2011, BlogHer 2011Blissdom 2011, Alt Summit 2010BlogHer 2010, BlogHer 2008 and BlogHer 2009, the 2008 Kansas City Literary Festival and 2009 Chicks Who Click and appeared on the Walt Bodine Show in 2008.

She’s been quoted by Bloomberg Businessweek, The Associated Press, Forbes Woman, the Wall Street Journal, Businessweek and Businessweek Online and featured in Breathe magazine, Get Your Biz Savvy, The Kansas City Star (archived material available on request), Today Moms (Today Show blog) and Ink KC.

Want to find out more about Rita? Here are some links you should check out:

Website/blog: http://www.surrenderdorothyblog.com or http://www.ritaarens.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ritaarens

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rita.arens

BlogHer: http://www.blogher.com/member/rita-arens

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=4048495&trk=tab_pro

Pinterest: https://pinterest.com/ritajarens/

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B002KRLEHE

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1371209.Rita_Arens

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  • Christie @ Random Reflectionz

    Can related on so many levels. Great post.

  • http://twitter.com/juliecgardner Julie Gardner

    I understand every single word of this post in my bones.
    (The ones in my keyboarding fingers, of course.)

    Oh.

    Except for the part where you actually got published.
    I’m still in that people-stopped-asking phase (and I’m so glad they stopped asking so I don’t have to keep explaining that for some of us, it’s a loooong process).

    Here’s to wanting it THAT MUCH.
    Someday, I hope to be in your shoes.

    I will.

    (And even then, yes, I know a part of me will feel like I have to qualify my success, like it doesn’t yet REALLY count. Because after all, it’s just me.)

    So cheers to the hard work. To inspiration.
    To never giving up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/natalie.allenhoage Natalie Allen Hoage

    Great advice and it comes completely from the heart which makes it even more valuable.

  • Vinobaby

    Yes. Endurance. Thank you for sharing the challenges, your missteps, and how you pushed ahead and learned. I’m taking your beta readers comments to heart. I’m almost there. You’ve created a wonderful book that will help so many. Congrats!

  • http://twitter.com/JackieCross Jackie Park-Cross

    This makes so much sense… I need to get to the point where I am past the fear. Fear of rejection, what others will think/say, and my fear that I just can’t do it. Because I can do it.

    Just doing something you want is a good start. That is where I should start.

  • http://twitter.com/ritaarens Rita Arens

    Keep wanting and keep doing, guys. I think persistence is 99% of it.

  • Arnebya

    I am so very proud of you, Rita, for continuing, pushing through, being determined, believing in your story and your writing ability. I’m still on the road, but thanks to reading things like this, that veering off to the side that I’ve been doing, referred to as I’ma Just Stop Now, can be, well, curbed (because I do want it that much.)

  • Mrs. Jen B

    Thank you for fighting, and for sharing the story here. Thank you for giving us all hope.

  • http://twitter.com/GalitBreen Galit Breen

    Amen to persistence and hard work.

    I absolutely love your honesty here, it’s…refreshing!

  • alexandra

    I appreciate your honesty, I love how you give of yourself. I think of how even one percent of your love of the written word, and its power to move people, to enlighten, to be heard, can write a tremendous book, just think of what a read the obvious game is.

    I can’t wait.

    I really can’t wait.

    You are a blessing in my life, Rita. I mean it.

    Thank you. I am keeping this post, because I want it. I want this, to have people find comfort and hope in what I tell them: that it’s Okay to not be like the rest. To be who you are, is Okay.

  • http://amandamagee.com amandamagee

    I remember listening to you at BlogHer Writers (Writer’s?). You are so real and unapologetic in shooting from the hip. Thank you. Off to tend to some doing.

  • Lady Jennie

    This was so helpful and inspiring to read.