My friend Holly Robinson’s novel, THE WISHING HILL (and its stunning cover) will be published by Penguin in Summer 2013. Oh, and she’ll have another novel published in 2014! So I’m going to make sure she comes back to talk more about all that crazy awesomeness! But today, Holly shares with us why it’s important to just keep on writing, and trying no matter what. Why? Because you just don’t know the moment that something is just going to go flying over the net. (The tennis pun is weak, I agree, but my intentions were good.)
Please welcome Holly to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Writing, Rejections, and Going for that Overhead Smash
By Holly Robinson
By the time my agent was sending out my fifth novel, I figured I’d paid my dues as a writer. Yes, it’s true that I majored in biology and had never even read James Joyce, but I atoned for that mistake by flinging myself into graduate school to earn an MFA in creative writing. I even published short stories in literary journals where the payment was two copies. I collected enough rejection slips that, one Halloween, I dressed as a Rejection Slip, donning a lacy slip with my rejections stapled all over it.
“Are you still writing?” friends and relatives asked, year after year.
“Of course. And this one is it,” I always answered.
And then came novel #5. This will be the one, I told myself, just like Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory: This will be my golden ticket!
When the rejections amassed that fifth time, though, I lost faith. That tiny negative voice in my head, the one that was usually like some bee you can wave off, began to sound like a trumpet in my ear. The voice blared: You are not smart enough to be a writer.
“Let’s try one more editor,” my blessed agent said.
I knew the editor he was sending my fifth novel to, and she is one of the smartest in the business. As a book doctor and ghost writer for many years, typically on nonfiction health books and celebrity memoirs, I’d had the opportunity to work with her on several books. I desperately wanted her to love my novel.
I waited three agonizing weeks. Then the editor’s reply came: “I’m sorry, but the novel just doesn’t work for us,” she said, adding various detailed observations about where the plot flagged and why the characters didn’t ring true.
“Should I get you some wine?” my husband asked when he found me prone on the sofa, the rejection letter crumpled in one hand and a bouquet of Kleenexes in the other.
“Go get me chocolates. Good chocolates,” I hissed. “I’m never writing fiction again.”
I was devastated enough by that one rejection to eat my way through an entire box of dark chocolate truffles, drink half a bottle of Grand Marnier, and watch Nicole Kidman attempt to sing in Moulin Rouge. By now, that trumpeting voice in my head had turned cocky and mean: Your sentences are dull and stupid. Your plot lines are insipid. Your descriptions are trite. Your characters are flat and uninteresting. Who would want to read your writing?
That was it. I was done with fiction.
With so much extra time on my hands, I decided to do something entirely unlike me: I took tennis lessons.
I had never played a sport in my life, and I rapidly discovered that practicing a sport means getting yelled at a lot. My tennis coach’s nonstop badgering nearly made me quit: “Get up to net! Come on, don’t stand around the baseline! Go for it! You want that overhead smash!”
My problem was that I was too timid and polite. I got hit on the head with tennis balls more than once, nearly pummeled to the ground by aggressive women on the other side of the net going for their overhead smashes.
I spent hours and hours on the tennis court. I joined a travel team and moved up the ranks. Still, I hung back, always playing it safe, until one day my coach lost her temper.
“You know,” she said, “the only person who really cares about whether you screw up out here is you! Just get up to net and take the balls in the air! You might miss. But you might surprise yourself if you try.”
The metaphor here is obvious, and so were the flaws in my tennis playing. I had to force myself to net again and again. Until one day, to my shock, I found myself looking for those overheads and smashing them down at my opponent’s feet. I missed a lot of balls, but I made some great shots, too.
I became more confident at tennis, and that made me start writing again. What did I have to lose by trying another novel? Nobody was going to publish it, probably, but so what? I love writing fiction. So I started another book.
This is one of those happy-ending stories, but with a twist. While I was writing my sixth novel, The Wishing Hill, I also revised and self-published that fifth novel, Sleeping Tigers. Self publishing wasn’t the way I wanted to go, but going to net in tennis had taught me to gamble. I revised Sleeping Tigers and published it myself.
Meanwhile, I finished my newest novel, The Wishing Hill. The same editor at Penguin, the one I had always dreamed about working with on a novel, bought it. She recently bought the new novel I’m working on, too. It will be published a year after The Wishing Hill.
What’s the takeaway here?
- If you are a writer, you will surely get rejected. Nobody cares but you.
- Writing, like anything else, is all about keeping the ball in play, watching for new opportunities, and not being afraid to go to net.
Want to make it as a writer? You have to fail first—and sometimes many times. Get to the net and write another book. Keep going for that overhead smash, and you might surprise yourself.
Holly Robinson is an award-winning journalist whose work appears regularly in national venues such as Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Huffington Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, More, Open Salon, and Parents. She also works as a ghost writer on celebrity memoirs, education texts, and health books. Her first book, The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter: A Memoir, was named a Target Breakout Book. Her first novel, Sleeping Tigers, was named a 2011 Book of the Year Finalist by ForeWord Reviews and was more recently listed as a Semifinalist 2012 Best Indie Book by Kindle Book Review. She holds a B.A. in biology from Clark University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She lives north of Boston with her husband and their five children.