Rejection—Part Two by Barbara Ross

I wrote earlier this week about how I’ve experienced the act of rejecting as an editor. Today I want to talk about how I’ve come to think about rejection from the other side, as a writer.

Honestly, haven’t handled it well. Which is hard for me to admit, because, like most people, I don’t like talking about things I’m not good at. Very bad at, in fact. But I’m getting better.

When I first submitted my book The Death of an Ambitious Woman, I got interest from multiple agents right away. But then it didn’t sell to a publisher. For long, agonizing months, it didn’t sell. My agent told me it was the end of the line.

I was crushed. I didn’t write for months and then I started two books, neither of which made it past the first hundred pages. I had plenty of excuses. The company I had co-founded had taken off. My children were adolescents with all the activities and angst that brings. I was busy. I was miserable.

My writers group was patient and supportive. I started writing again. Short stories at first because I’d fallen in love with Alice Munro, and because they fit with my life. And eventually, much later, another novel.

But I’d lost a lot of time and it was, writing-wise, if not life-wise, a dark passage.

I used to wonder why I could pitch a company, and if investors weren’t interested, shrug it off and think, “your loss,” but rejection of my writing was so devastating. “Writing is so much more personal,” people would say. I really don’t think that’s it. Writing is more solitary, but your life and your ideas and your work are all personal, no matter what you do.

I think it’s about confidence. Not confidence about whether you are good or bad. But confidence that “there’s more where that came from.” For those of us who squeeze writing around jobs and families, who spend months on stories and years on novels, each product can become invested, weighted, with such hopes and dreams, as if it is the only chance.

I’ve lost forty-five pounds in the last year. (Great, how did this happen? Now I’m writing about the two subjects I’m most uncomfortable about.) I did it, mostly, by shifting my mindset from one of deprivation to one of abundance. Before, I had to eat that cannoli now because soon —tomorrow, next week, next month, next year—I was going on a diet. But now I think, there will always be more cannoli. So eating that one may not be so critically important.

“There will always be more words,” a woman in my writers group used to cheerfully say when advised to rip out a scene, ditch a character, kill a setting. I embraced it up to a point. Actually up to that point—the scene, character, setting point.

Now I see that for your mental health, writers have to embrace that philosophy all the way up the line. I think it’s what gives some people the magic confidence that allows them to think, “You don’t like it. Your loss.” Because I’m going to be right back at you with something else.

So say it. Think it. Live it.

There will always be more ideas.

There will always be more characters.

There will always be more books.

There will always be more stories.

There will always be more words.

There will always be more cannoli.

P.S. It all turned out okay with The Death of an Ambitious Woman, by the way. When I reread it years later, I was glad it wasn’t published, amazed it got as far as it did. I roto-tilled it, and did get published. It’s not necessarily an example of the philosophy of abundance, since I perseverated on the same book. But I was younger then.

About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at
This entry was posted in Barb's Posts and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Rejection—Part Two by Barbara Ross

  1. John Clark says:

    This is an excellent column. I’ve always been fascinated with writers who published one book, usually one I loved, and then never published again. Almost a psychological autopsy level curiosity if you will. Did they realize that was it for them? Did life events take them on a new path? Did they become so scared of being able to repeat the success that the fear paralyzed them?
    I just returned to a book I last worked on in 2005. I had quit in part because I was stuck in a place and couldn’t for the life of me figure out where to go. In the process of revising what HAD been done, the idea for a sequel came out of the blue. Seven years ago, I absolutely know that thought couldn’t have existed. You’re right, the stories will continue, the characters will appear, the process won’t die.

    • Barb Ross says:

      Me, too, John. Though of course, if my first book had been To Kill a Mockingbird, I’m not sure I would have had the nerve to publish ever again!

  2. Deanna says: new mantra at meals is: There will always be more cannoli. It just sounds right to and for me. Dee

  3. Barb, terrific insight, here and in Part 1.

    I lost a big chunk of creative time for reasons beyond my control. Now I’m back in control and more appreciative–and more stubborn. I like your mantra, that there are always more words, and also that you’ll keep them coming. I’m heavily invested in my words, but not necessarily these particular ones, in this particular order. If that makes any sense!

  4. Dan Luft says:

    With editors moving around all the time you might also say there will always be other markets.

    • Barb Ross says:

      So true, Dan. When we “re-marketed” The Death of an Ambitious Woman only one editor who had previously rejected it was still in place.

Leave a Reply