August 15, 2011

Tracy Krauss - How Rejection Transformed My Writing Life

Seriously. Rejection - and I mean hard core, downright heart wrenching 'this really stinks' rejection - was the best thing that ever happened to me in terms of my writing.

I'm a compulsive writer. It's just something I do. I've been writing for over a quarter century, and in those early years, I was happy to just pound away at my typewriter while my kids were taking their nap, dreaming that someday I'd get published, but not really believing it could ever happen. It was enough to just 'get the words out' and I figured if it ended up being nothing more than personal therapy, so be it.

Then, at one point (and I'm not exactly sure when that shift took place) I started to think that maybe - just maybe - somebody might actually like to read what I'd written. I took my first tentative steps toward sharing, starting with one of my daughters who was a voracious reader. She came back, manuscript in hand, with a semi-detached, 'bored' expression, saying, "It was okay."

Hm. Not exactly what I had hoped for, but I took it as a sign that a 14 year old really wasn't my best critique option, or I needed to go back and change things. In the end I slashed that manuscript to pieces and totally revamped it, sure that NOW it was worthy of someone's attention. I went online, (we had now entered the personal computer era) and started researching publishers.

To my surprise, most publishers did not take unsolicited manuscripts. I needed an agent. WHAT? Nobody ever told me that!! (You're getting the picture how really, really GREEN I was ...) I was imagining how I'd ship the finished book off to Tyndale or Zondervan and they'd just jump on it - grab it up and publish it as the next break out best seller.

Instead, what did end up happening totally transformed my writing life. I send my manuscript to an agency that offered critiquing services. If things weren't too bad, they'd go on to post your work on their site for potential agents and publishers to see. If it wasn't up to standard, they'd at least offer a critique. Sure that I would be a shoe in, I waited with anticipation for their response.

Ouch, ouch, ouch. I got three different perspectives on my work, and all three were brutal. All the classic 'Show not tell', awkward phrasing, not moving the story forward, POV head hopping ... on and on it went. Once each and every one of these problems was pointed out, I couldn't believe I had missed it. It just seemed so obvious. I had spent so much time in my own head, that I literally did not see the forest for the trees.

I have since had the wonderful opportunity to be the recipient of many, many more such rejections! I've taken to embracing criticism, because I realize that in most cases, it will make me a better writer. The trick is, you have to detach yourself emotionally and see negative comments as roads to improvement. Actually applying what is suggested helps, too!

I now have two books in print, one in production, several more in various stages, and I'm currently in negotiations with an agent. Without that early wake up call, I'd still be in my own little world, writing for an audience of one. (And I don't mean God! He wants our BEST, and that's not what I was doing.)

How has rejection transformed your writing?


  1. Rejections are never easy, because we all want to be perfect. As you say, however, they can be a huge push if we are willing to put aside the emotions and take the advice. I've also had some great critiques and read enough stories like yours that I haven't tried (yet) to approach a publisher or agent. :) I keep trying to learn all I can, thanks to the great internet and all the writers I've met, and hope someday to have a success story like yours.

  2. I'm still learning, too, that's for sure! I don't think anybody ever figures it all out ...

  3. Tracy - good for you to keep going after those brutal comments. But it seems like writing is in your genes, so you probably couldn't have stopped if you'd have tried! Keep enjoying the successes - and I hope they are many.

  4. Thanks for the encouragement, Violet

  5. AS you say, Tracy, none of us ever reach the nadir of perfect writing! So we continue to use whatever tools or critique comes our way to improve.
    However, I'm sure that most of our readers--probably those that get the most from our writing--rarely notice the little, or even larger imperfections, any more than you did at the beginning.
    Let's by all the means available, keep improving our writing, but not wait until we're perfect before doing it. After all, the same is true of Christian living, isn't it?

  6. Often, ANY comment, even the one I got from an agent "partly wonderful, partly in need of help" is preferable to the deadly silence. My turning point came when I read a WD article about a new author's goal to COLLECT at least 100 rejections in a year - not that she was trying to send out bad stuff, just that she was trying.

  7. Good advice, Brian. If I could, I would go back and change a few things in my first two books, but there comes a point where you just have to say 'enough!'

  8. Great advice and encouragement for fellow writers. Thank you, and wish you more success.

  9. I love your comment Lisa! 100 rejections is a very worthy goal!

  10. Chuckled... sighed... nodded....

    Years ago when I submitted my very first devotional to a writers contest -- in fact it was InScribe -- I was very happy to have received an honourable mention. Needless to say, I was so encouraged by that.

    But the comments I received from the critique were the best... because as you mentioned, it wasn't until the weak area was pointed out I would never have realized that's what I was doing. (I had used more than one illustration which they said weakened my devotional).

    So I've decided to 'embrace' rejection and negative feedback as a gift so that I can learn and take things to new level.

  11. Rejection hurts, however, the words aren't as painful when they come with advice on how to improve a piece. I admire those editors/agents who take the time to write comments and provide feedback instead of the standard, thanks but no thanks.


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