As an author, I’ve had my share of rejections. I’ve cried. I’ve sworn I would give up. It took me 10 years before I sold my first book. While I waited for my second one to sell, I kept writing. It took another 13 years before I sold book two. During those years, I acquired thousands of rejection letters. Most of them were just form rejections. But eventually, those rejections got more encouraging, and I did sell another book.
My latest release, Don’t Close Your Eyes, will be my 39th book published, and I’m contracted for five more. I’ve hit the New York Times list, the USA Today list, I’ve been a RITA finalist, and I’ve been published in over 12 different countries.
All this from a girl who had to learn how to spell ‘writer.’
You see, I’m dyslexic.
In grade school, I was classified as learning disabled and placed in Special Ed. In third grade, I still couldn’t read. I was 10 when I finished my first chapter book, Charlotte’s Web. It took me a month to read, yet that book did something for me. Not only did I fall in love with a big black spider, but I also fell in love with the art of storytelling.
I couldn’t put my own stories on paper. That was too daunting. Instead, I stood in the lunch line, dazed to the world around me, totally lost in a daydream. A daydream that would last months. By the time I was twelve, I was crafting tales of hot boys, danger, and young girls discovering their inner strength. In my head, I was writing romantic suspense.
Like reading is to so many young people, the stories I created were my escape. Being dyslexic not only affected my grades, it attacked my self-esteem. I still remember the day a teacher came up to me and said, “Young lady, if you don’t get your head out of the clouds, you’ll never amount to anything.” I didn’t know that what I was doing would end up being the springboard to a fantastic career. I only knew that by telling my stories, I discovered who I was. Creating these stories made me feel powerful. It gave me back the self-esteem that being different took away.
I didn’t start putting words on paper until I was 23. By then I was hooked on reading romance. At first, it took me forever to finish writing a book. In time, I got faster. I learned to use a bookmark to help me follow the line and hide the text below. I completed my first novel in longhand. Then I bought a computer with spell check.
Shortly after, I joined RWA and a critique group. I went to classes, listened and took in every piece of advice I could get. But it was clear to me that I learned a little differently than others. A big learning curve for me was when I started dissecting and studying the novels that I loved. I looked at what the writer brought to the table in her first chapter and then her second and so on. I got highlighters and marked dialogue in one color, background information in another. I’d highlight the conflict and characterization, too.
Then I’d print my novel out and highlight my work and compare them. I could see if I didn’t have as much dialogue, or I didn’t bring in enough conflict. I discovered my strengths were creating characters and bringing emotion to the page, so I worked on my weakness: tightening the plot.
Looking back, I would’ve never dreamed that I would arrive where I am in my career today. Or that I’d spend so much time teaching the craft, or that I would’ve even sold a book called The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel. Or that I’d discover that I enjoy teaching and helping others arrive at their dreams almost as much as I do writing.
Over the years, a lot of people have asked me how I overcame my dyslexia. I tell them dyslexia isn’t something you overcome. You compensate. Oh, I’m much better than before, but my first drafts are still riddled with mistakes. I also tell them that I don’t think I’ve gotten where I am today in spite of dyslexia, but maybe, in part, because of it. Dyslexia taught me grit. Nothing was easy for me, so why should writing be? If I got a rejection, it just meant I needed to try again. Try harder.
For aspiring writers or people struggling to accomplish a dream, I tell them to find their inner grit. Don’t be afraid to fail. Very few writers make it in their first go around, or even in their tenth. Most writers get where they are through perseverance. So many writers give up because they get one, two, ten, or even a hundred rejections.
A rejection isn’t a career stopper. It’s a stepping stone.