Why is dad so sad? Probably because he just checked his mail and found his self-addressed stamped envelope in his box, his manuscript inside, and the dreaded form letter saying, “We are sorry, but your manuscript does not currently meet our specific needs.” The first dozen or so times, Dad wanted to believe the closing line promising to review his work in the future but…
Dr. Seuss (aka Theodore Geisel) knew the feeling. His now-classic children’s book And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street was rejected a whopping twenty-seven times before it was finally accepted by Vanguard Press. This may be your fate as well.
Putting your work out in the world is scary. Rejection sucks. It can make you afraid to do it again. But you have to try. Because the twenty-seventh or twenty-eighth time might just be the one.
Novelist Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible, The Bean Trees) offers this advice to writers feeling wounded: “This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.”
To give you hope, here are ten rejections of famous writers as well as a some of their reactions and advice about coping with rejection:
Theodor Geisel, best known to fans as Dr. Seuss, would have been 109 years old on March 2. He is beloved for his intricate rhymes and curious, inimitable style. But Dr. Seuss was about more than a curious turn of phrase and the creator of fantastical creatures. He was a serious writer and artist with a social agenda.
Personally, I learned about prejudice from his book The Star-Belly Sneetches:
Now, the Star-Bell Sneetches had bellies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars.
Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small.
You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.
But, because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches
Would brag, “We’re the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches.”
With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they’d snort
“We’ll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort!”
And, whenever they met some, when they were out walking,
They’d hike right on past them without even talking.
When the Star-Belly children went out to play ball,
Could a Plain Belly get in the game? Not at all.
You only could play if your bellies had stars
And the Plain-Belly children had none upon thars.
I learned about conservation from The Lorax:
At the far end of town
where the Grickle-grass grows
and the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows
and no birds ever sing excepting old crows…
is the Street of the Lifted Lorax.
And deep in the Grickle-grass, some people say,
if you look deep enough you can still see, today,
where the Lorax once stood
just as long as it could
before somebody lifted the Lorax away.
What was the Lorax?
Any why was it there?
And why was it lifted and taken somewhere
from the far end of town where the Grickle-grass grows?
The old Once-ler still lives here.
Ask him. He knows.
Now that I am an adult and a writer myself, I marvel at Geisel’s technical expertise and his ability to make the seemingly simple deeply meaningful. Here is his explanation of what it means to “write simply.”
Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss.