One rejection was harrowing, though. In spidery handwriting, a somewhat famous editor said I was "intoxicated with my own style." It was like a dagger to my spleen. Yet within hours I realized he was right. I was intoxicated with my own style. I never forgot that. Had he been kinder and more tactful, I would not have gotten the point. That's how I learned that sometimes the cruelest cuts hold the greatest information. You remember the rejections in ways that you don't remember the successes. They reach you in a primal spot. Rejection can be like mulch: dirty, smelly, and essential to growth.

I eventually wrote another novel, which I eagerly submitted to my agent. After three flesh-eating silent months, I received a thick envelope with my manuscript and a terse letter. My agent explained that not only did she feel there was not market for the book, she apologized for taking so long to reject it, saying that the agency was very busy with projects that were in the works. In other words, not only was I inadequate but others were catapulting into fruition with the regularity of bunny rabbits.

After a four-month depression, I decided my Washington agent was wrong. Sometimes setbacks make you feel that perhaps you have made your goal too small—you need to aim not lower but higher. What the hell, in other words.

Marshaling my courage, I sent ten query letters to agents in New York. Within days I had my replies. Not one but two agents wanted to represent me. The woman I chose became my fairy godmother. She sold the book immediately, as well as the film rights. I resisted the impulse to contact my ex-agent to inform her of the good news. I decided she should have the thrill of discovery.

Don't get me wrong. I detest rejection. And I do take it personally, even though, according to self-help mavens, I am not supposed to. Yet I am too stubborn to admit defeat for long.

I think that, especially in matters of work, you should expect rejection on a regular basis. To try to avoid it is a major mistake, as you will massage your unique style into the consistency of gruel in the vain effort to try to please everyone all the time. In general, the populace will be divided into four groups: (1) people who understand and appreciate what you are trying to do, (2) people who understand and don't appreciate it, (3) people who don't understand and appreciate it anyway, and (4) people who don't understand and hate your guts. It is not important that everyone fall into the first category; it is only important that you participate in life.

It is also key to listen and watch for the message the rejection has hidden in its folds. At 40 I now believe rejection is God's way of kicking you to higher ground. That said, I would add that although this has always held a gift for me, I still sometimes grow tired of God's boot print on my behind.


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