How much rejection can I stand and still keep trying?

My career has long been flagging, flailing, rudderless. It’s a long story I’ll get into another time, which began with saying goodbye to my precious second novel. I realize now that my whole-hearted devotion to that book was keeping me afloat in the rocky waters of clinical depression. Which, hooray for craft and inspiration and the power of artistry and all of that! But then the book was published (still yay!) and then there was just depression, which is a murky thing to write through. Everything was stilted and sounded a lot like book #2, and if not it just sounded confused and awful, and I was impatient and felt awful, and I hated myself and everything I did. Because, as I mentioned, I was clinically depressed.

Finally, after years of living in a dense, all encompassing fog—treatment! A new therapeutic approach that took into account the weird ways my brain had become accustomed to thinking, along with the helpful hand of medication and (drum roll) the clouds lifted! I laughed and I really meant it! My laugh was endless, real, mirthful! My life and everything in it no longer tinged with certain doom, my real desires came the fore and—oh yes, I’ll write a book, of course I will! But, of greater interest: let’s create a baby human! Also let’s sell our house and buy a new one and move. Because when you are not clinically depressed, Things are Possible and Not Necessarily Doomed, after years of thinking otherwise.

But writing continued, and my focus improved. I committed to a project—a Victorian fantasy filled with gliding automatons and dancing dolls. Delightful! At least, to me. I got up the gumption to leave my agent and search for someone who focused on young adult fiction. And I did it, hurrah! And she was great, hurrah, again! We polished up that Victorian tome until the glass eyes of the dancing dolls gleamed. And I thought, this is my next book! I’ve found her! And I believed it for the FIVE YEARS that I worked on that book, while sick and pregnant and later tired and hunched over a warm, silky baby. This is my book! It’s ready for the world!

And then: rejection, rejection, rejection. Steampunk is dead, the editors said. Or, we like it but NOT ENOUGH. Or, we like your writing but NOT ENOUGH. I was deficient. I was working and caring for a toddler and we moved somewhere in the midst of all this, and I would think: I should write another book, I haven’t completed a novel since The King’s Rose…and then realize WAIT, NO. I did write another book, a full manuscript, but no one wanted it and so it is easily forgotten. As if I imagined it all: the reworking, the revisions, the frustrations and joys. A convoluted and oddly exhausting dream that took five years to complete.

So I started working on something else to help retain my hard-won sanity. On a weekend alone I got a whiff of a new idea—a ballerina in a creaky house on a winter-locked island. There are ghosts there, and dread, and a syringe. So dark! So creepy! I was excited. My agent was excited! It came together so quickly! Another book, hurrah!

And then: rejection, rejection, rejection. We thought, perhaps this isn’t a YA novel at all? Perhaps it is a contemporary adult thriller? It makes sense, it’s just the type of book I love to read. But then my agent didn’t feel right representing it, as she doesn’t represent adult thrillers. And now I’m on the agent search again. And this week I’ve received two rejections in two days, from two agents who requested the full manuscript. And I wonder, how much rejection will I accept before I give up on this?

But I know I won’t give up, I CAN’T give up completely, because there will always be a story to write and characters to listen to and I will get that bubbly excited feeling again and want to share my weird, dark vision with someone else who might enjoy it. But how many times can those stories be rejected before I get crabbed and twisted, and become an altogether bitter person?

I hope I don’t have to find out. And I dread that I already have.

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