“The quality of the writing, Michelle. It's okay, but it's not 100% there, in my opinion. I think it needs more work.”

I read those again and again: “It’s okay.” It’s okay.” And I ranted and raved and cried and pronounced him a mean jerk who didn't know a thing.

“Okay? It’s okay? The writing is okay? Who does he think he is?” I fumed. The tears seeped out of my eyes and dripped onto the Candy Land board. Rowan didn't even notice.

I’d asked for it, of course. When the agent emailed the rejection, noting he didn’t think I was “quite ready,” I’d had the gall to write back.

“Do you mean the writing isn’t ready or the platform isn’t ready, or both?” I’d inquired.

And that’s when I’d received his clipped response: "The quality of the writing, Michelle."

I didn’t want to hear it. And I refused to believe it.

But it was true [still, more than a year later, I admit this through gritted teeth].

The writing was parts. But the manuscript was 104,000 words – about 25,000 too long. It rambled in places. It derailed into theology, instruction and biblical exegesis, none of which fit well in the memoir genre. It wasn’t polished. It wasn’t perfect.

But I’d thought it was.

It's easier to blame someone else, rather than take responsibility for our own flaws or mistakes, isn't it? That's been my experience in writing...and in life.

I was quick to blame the agent: He was just plain wrong. Cruel and callous. A fool. He didn’t know what he was talking about. He had a vendetta against unpublished writers. I concocted a dozen reasons as to why that agent was wrong.

It took me more than two months to realize that maybe, just maybe, there was some truth in those hard words. Sure he could have been kinder, a little less brusque. But in the end, I realized that he had written the truth. And that truth, though hard to accept at the time, turned out to be a gift.

Did you ever receive a hard-to-hear critique, only to realize later it was the truth? In the end did it help or hurt?

* My sister-in-law Vanessa gave me the book pictured above as a gift...and I do think it might take an entire collection of "other people's rejection letters" to put this process in perspective!

Jen  – (April 26, 2011 at 7:57 AM)  

Ugh. Yes. And being the competitive person that I am, I didn't take it well. I'm learning, though, how to use criticism to better myself, to let God use it to refine me.

Jean Wise  – (April 26, 2011 at 9:00 AM)  

I think any rejection hurts but often the truth does hurt. Isn't it funny we ask for the truth but really don't want to hear it? and when we hear it, we get mad. Funny humans!

Christine  – (April 26, 2011 at 9:15 AM)  

I get a version of this almost every day at work, where I write every day for a living. So I get it. But can I be honest? I think I expect this now too.

As an aside, I'm so curious to know more about your process Michelle!!

marlece  – (April 26, 2011 at 9:51 AM)  

that mean dare he...that is what I say to this!

I love your writing...I, too, hate 'constructive criticism' but know it's for my own good. I'm sorry, but know that someday I will be heading to Borders to buy that book written by you, anticipating, can't wait. So, get busy friend, this girl is waiting!

David Rupert  – (April 26, 2011 at 10:20 AM)  

I had a boss told me I was arrogant once...of course, I didnt reply in humility.

In the end -- he was right

GLENDA CHILDERS  – (April 26, 2011 at 12:50 PM)  

My favorite "rejection story" is Madeleine L'Engle. I forget now the exact number . . . but countless book proposals were rejected for "A Wrinkle in Time", which of course won a Newberry Award. She writes a lot about rejection as a writer in her 4 autobiographies. (Some of my favorite books.) She would truly sympathize with your feelings, as do I.


Jennifer  – (April 26, 2011 at 1:37 PM)  

Yes! An acting professor once told me that he didn't think I believed what I was saying in my performance--in essence, that I couldn't act (or at least, that's how I took it). I, too, blamed him for being a jerk. The director of the play had always praised me, but, perhaps, he wasn't totally wrong (just mostly). ;)

Laura@OutnumberedMom  – (April 26, 2011 at 5:20 PM)  

Are you KIDDING? Have I EVER? I think any rejection hurts, even if it's nicely phrased. And yes, I realized later (much later) that it was the truth -- it did help in the end.

You're in good company, girl!

Nancy  – (April 26, 2011 at 5:56 PM)  

Thank you for being so brave and for sharing this process with us. I haven't experienced many hard-to-hear critiques, probably because I've been too timid to put myself out there. It's hard just watching shows like American Idol where the feedback sometimes is brutal. Of course, the tough feedback is generally intended to get the contestant to up their game. And, the judges don't always agree with one another and have to fall back on "That's just my opinion." Loved the comment above about Madeline L'Engle. Now there's a role model for you!

Southern Gal  – (April 26, 2011 at 8:30 PM)  

Ah, yes, I've taken critiquing in the wrong way only to realize later it was spot on. How I wish I had listened earlier. We grow through it all. You do have a teachable spirit. You'll make it better and truly thank him in the end.

emily wierenga  – (April 26, 2011 at 9:29 PM)  

oh michelle, i'm walking this road with you friend. this long rejection road. but as my friend told me once, "it only takes one 'yes'." :) love you.

alicia  – (April 26, 2011 at 11:42 PM)  

But it wasn't your fault! ;)
If you had been a fly in my car this morning as I drove behind a slow vehicle when I was late you would have seen this play out!
Yes, I blamed the slow person in front of me and then tried to justify to the 6 month old in the back seat. And finally I said "I am frustrated at this person... mostly because I know its MY fault." Oh how I hate to be the wrong one, yet the peace that comes with that admittance is substantial.

Debbie  – (April 27, 2011 at 8:23 AM)  

Thought provoking. Years ago my artwork was being reviewed for inclusion in the State Arts Commission. One of the panelists that had juried my work before noticed a change. He commented positively on the new work but added a more cryptic note suggesting that I only create what I "loved".
I'd taken a turn into "abstraction" for several years and made a living selling the work. But that juror knew my earlier work that hinged on representation and story telling. He knew the older work was "better" and found a way to tell me without disparaging. It was better because it more accurately articulated my "voice". I'm finally returning to narrative story telling in my artwork.

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