This blog has been rather dormant for a while, as I’ve been busy with other things (good things, mostly!), but something happened that gave me a reason to poke my head out…
So a while ago I got an email through the contact form of this blog from Tara Sage, founder and curator of Sheulogy: a writer’s gallery for stories about the shoes we’ve loved (or hated) and lost. Tara had stumbled across my article on how to write a rejection letter that won’t make people hate you, and she wanted to take me up on my offer to review and provide feedback on her form rejection. She was the first ever to do so!
Why am I telling you this? Well, firstly because if you’re a writer you should definitely consider submitting something to Sheulogy. (At least if you get rejected, you’ll know that the form rejection is a 5/5! 😉 )
But secondly, because Tara just nominated me for the Sunshine Bloggers Award.
I think the word “award” is a bit strong for this 😛 It’s a bit like a more positive version of a chain letter: nominees answer some questions about themselves, and then pass the honor on to 8 additional bloggers whose work they admire. These are the guidelines:
Sunshine Blogger Award Guidelines:
- Thank the blogger who nominated you and link to his/her blog.
- Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.
- Nominate 8 bloggers to receive the award and ask them to answer 11 questions.
- List these rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award in your post and on your blog.
Well, because I’m a contrarian I’m going to break the rules.
I want to nominate my brave and inspiring Rejection Survivor Interviewees, but only four of them have blogs, only some of which are active:
And the truth is I don’t read a lot of blogs these days. So you four may consider yourselves nominated if you wish!
I’m going to thank Tara sincerely for her nomination, but instead of answering the questions she answered, I’m going to do something a little different.
I’ve done quite a few Rejection Survivor Interviews on this blog, and sometimes I wonder how I would answer the questions I ask my interviewees. So today, I’m going to answer 11 of my favorite questions from Rejection Survivor Interviews, and interview… myself!
Rejection Survivor Interview: Daniella Levy
So, um, this is me.
Aside from writing The Rejection Survival Guide, I am the author of a novel, By Light of Hidden Candles, and a book of nonfiction, Letters to Josep: An Introduction to Jewish Life. My next novel, Disengagement, is forthcoming in early 2020 from Kasva Press. I was born in the US and immigrated to Israel with my family as a child. My prose and poetry—in English, Hebrew, and Spanish—have been widely published in blah blah blah blah blah have I mentioned that I hate bios?! Forget this, let’s get to the good stuff:
When did you first decide to become a writer? Can you tell us about an early piece you wrote that no one’s ever heard of because it stayed in the drawer?
I don’t remember when I first decided to become a writer, but it must have been very early on, because by the time I was keeping a regular journal in 4th grade, I clearly already assumed I’d be a published author someday. (It only took another 20 years. 😛 )
Early piece I wrote that no one’s ever heard of… so, I never submitted my first novel for publication because I was much more excited about my second, which I finished just a few months after finishing my first. The novel was called Long Journey Home and told the story of an orphan trying to find her family. I wrote it between the ages of 12 and 14.
Tell us about your first-ever submission. What did you submit, and to whom?
My first-ever submission was a query letter for my second novel, The Problem with Princes — a Cinderella-type romantic comedy with a very sassy female protagonist. I was 15 years old at the time.
How did you feel when you received your first rejection, and what motivated you to keep trying?
I was disappointed, naturally. But I kept trying because I believed my book was good and someone out there would recognize that eventually.
How did you get from there to where you are now?
Haha, that could fill a book of its own. Let’s see how concise I can make this. I continued querying The Problem with Princes for a couple more years. In the meantime, I wrote a third novel, Godsisters, and a fourth novel, Shadow on the Moon. The latter was written at age 17 and I was more excited about it than I had been about any of the others. It was a sci-fi dystopia and I felt it had an important message. So I eventually put The Problem with Princes aside and started querying for Shadow on the Moon. I got one partial and one full MS request, but obviously, both were rejected.
When I was 19, an agent who had turned down Shadow on the Moon but admired my writing suggested an idea for a novel that she might like to represent. That idea turned into my fifth novel, Gather the Embers, and I was soooo excited because I pretty much already had an agent for it, right? Wrong. She eventually ghosted me and it turned out she had quit.
At that point I was so discouraged, I was done with this whole publishing thing. Done. I went off to college, got married, and started a family, and writing creatively became a thing I did when I was younger.
Then, when I was 26, a novel idea I’d had years earlier rushed back to me and refused to get out of my head. That resulted in the manuscript that received more rejections than all the others put together (something like 140)… eventually published by a small press as By Light of Hidden Candles. It was during the process of querying for that book that I developed the strategies and philosophies I write about in this blog.
Part of that process, though, was the decision to self-publish my first nonfiction book: Letters to Josep. I believe it was that decision, the decision that my writing was worthy of publication and I wasn’t going to wait around for someone else to say so, that led to the eventual string of “yes”es.
What gave you the will to keep going after so much disappointment?
To quote my introductory post on this blog:
I have asked myself this question many times, and the answer is subject to change. “I still have hope.” “I’m a frikkin’ masochist.” “I’m trying to prove myself.” “Why not? What have I got to lose?” “I’m addicted to querying. I can’t stop.” “Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? Maybe I’m just insane.” Most often: “I don’t. even. know.”
But as I concluded in that post, the real reason was this: I believe in my work.
Also: I am stubborn as all hell and I suck at giving up on things. Like, suck in an incapacitating, “Why on earth am I still holding onto this thing” way. It’s a blessing and a curse.
What’s the worst rejection or critique you ever received, and how did you recover from it?
You know, the thing that comes to mind is not a rejection, it is a review–and a review that was actually positive overall. My general policy is not to read reviews, but for various reasons I ended up reading this one, and it really upset me. Why? Because the reviewer seemed to be taking issue, not with the book itself, but with my characters (who I felt she misrepresented and cast in a very poor light) and their life choices, specifically the fact that they are religious. I am also religious, and I felt that she was criticizing not my work, but my life choices.
What helped me recover from it was a conversation with my friend Abi. She told me that while yes, the review was unfair and sometimes downright inaccurate in its representation of my characters (I mean, she even got one of the main characters’ names wrong), what the reviewer said at the end–that she found herself arguing with my characters in her head days after finishing the book–means the book accomplished exactly what I hoped it would accomplish. It made this reviewer think and it challenged her worldview. It may not have changed her views, but it did force her to face and reexamine them. What more could a writer ask for?
Did you ever doubt that your work was worthy because of all the “no”s, and if so, how did you work past that?
It’s hard to say exactly how I began to internalize that I didn’t need anybody else’s approval for my writing to be considered worthy. But I think it started with that quote from Amanda Palmer: “You’re an artist when you say you are. And you’re a good artist when you make somebody else experience or feel something deep or unexpected.” Understanding that approval from a publishing house, literary agent, or editor had nothing to do with whether my work was worthy made a huge difference in my life.
Who do you turn to for support when you get a particularly disappointing rejection?
Abi is my greenhouse. <3 I turn to my husband, too, but he doesn’t always know as well as Abi does what I need to hear in those moments. He supports me in many, many, many, many other ways.
Is there a particular image or dream you find yourself clinging to in the tougher moments? Can you describe it for us?
Well, I’m lucky enough now that I don’t have to cling to fantasies when I need a lift about my writing. I can cling to memories. Holding each of my books for the first time. Seeing my book in a bookstore for the first time. My talk with Josep in Girona. Lovely things random strangers have written to me about my writing. There are always new things to fantasize about, of course, but I think those memories sustain me a lot better than the fantasies do at this point.
What are your hopes for the future of your career?
At the moment, I’m just excited to get Disengagement out into the world and see how it goes. I’m really not hung up on what happens next. I feel at peace with not having an agent at the moment (though that is subject to change from time to time), and I am trying to be patient about my status now as “between projects.” (All my WIPs are dormant.)
I am also content to have a “quieter” career in copy and content writing, and that’s been moving forward a lot in recent months–which is part of the reason my blogs have been so quiet. I’ve been using up all my creative energy on work I actually get paid for! Imagine that! And producing good materials for my clients gives me other goals to pursue and other projects to feel proud of. I feel very lucky to be able to channel my passion for writing in a way that actually supports my family. And that is all much more important to me than whatever recognition/fame/glory I’d get from being a Successful Writer™.
What do you have to say to fellow writers and creatives still drowning in “no”s?
In the past, I might have quoted my “Someday Your Yes Will Come” post and said keep going. But now I feel I have something even more important to say:
BIG DREAMS ARE OVERRATED.
I’m not saying that to be a killjoy or tell you that pursuing your dreams isn’t worth it. What I’m saying is, much as I strongly encourage you to imagine and fantasize about living your dream, I also encourage you to think about The Day After. Because once all the euphoria dies down, you’re going to be left with the reality that moments like that are extremely rare, and the vast majority of your life is going to be made of much smaller moments–and those are the moments that really matter.
So my advice to you is, focus on the moments that matter. The moments you’re creating something new and enjoying doing it–those moments matter. The moments you’re spending with loved ones–those moments matter. The moments you notice the scent of the earth after a rainfall or the gentle breeze against your skin–those moments matter. The moments you are working toward a goal and manage to achieve something, not momentous, not earth-shattering, but nonetheless real–those moments matter. And when you work to cultivate those, the need to realize that big dream will take up a lot less emotional space.