The Lesson of Mulberry Street

27. Maybe 28.

That’s how many times Theodor Geisel’s first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected before ultimately being picked up by Vanguard. Geisel is better known as Dr. Seuss.

My childhood memories long gone, I have read Seuss’s books countless times as an adult. The Lorax was a staple in my work as an environmental educator. And now my son has started to enjoy Seuss’s early wordplay books such as Hop on Pop and Green Eggs and Ham. It’s hard to imagine that at one point his brilliance was rejected. 27 times. At least.

Rejection is on my mind these days. Or perhaps a better word to use is declination. That was recommended to me as a kinder word for what amounts to someone saying, “You’re not good enough.”

Yes, that’s harsh. But who among you hasn’t felt exactly that?

Try as I might, a tiny voice—negative and persistent—whispers in my ear each time I’ve sent my manuscript out. Of course, another voice—encouraging and hopeful—is also whispering, but you can guess which one maintains a slight edge.

As a writer, I’m a neophyte. I started writing two years ago, am pre-published—another nicety I learned at a conference—and have only sent out my manuscript 15 times, all within the past four months. I’ve gotten 10 rejections. Dr. Seuss claims he almost burned that first manuscript, and I can relate to the urge. But I’m holding on.

At the NYC conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), Jane Yolen admitted that she herself had a desk full of manuscripts that had been repeatedly rejected. If you’re not familiar with her work, rectify that immediately! She’s written over 300 books, including the popular picture books Owl Moon and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? As with Seuss, it’s hard to imagine someone that prolific and successful ever having their work rejected. On her webpage, Yolen admits, “A writer never gets used to rejections.” I suppose that’s true, though I’ll have to stick with this much longer to appreciate Yolen’s experience.

I’m not sure how she deals with it. As for me, my current critique group is one of the main reasons I’m still writing. (If not, THE.) Sure, my parents and husband are ardent supporters, but that’s kind of written into their contracts, isn’t it? For now, I trust that my critiquers will tell me to shelve a project when I’ve worked it as much as I can or when more opportunities to keep revising remain. Luckily, I still have a bank of stories that I’m yearning to write and share.  I am learning to write just for me, and oh how slow the learning curve is, but if I can allow my love of storytelling to drive my writing, then I will write until my story bank is dried up.

And so I carrying on, like Dr. Seuss did, not fully trusting that I’ll find that right agent, but hoping, deeply hoping to find a match for my manuscript and my career.

How do you keep going in the face of rejection? What are your criteria for putting a project aside? How do know when to make a work extinct versus dormant?

-Joanna

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