Updated: Mar 28
Waves of heat rise from the blacktop. I sit in a Jeep that isn't running, drops of sweat beading my forehead. My leg touches a molten door, and I jerk it away. It's sweltering. The hottest month of summer combined with humidity like a sauna. I should be melting.
And yet, I can't stop shivering.
I stare across the parking lot at an empty hardware store that I don't really see. Branded across my vision are words that I can't escape.
I don't think Abbie's writing is there yet. My latest rejection email is still pulled up on my phone. It's from an editor that my agent was sure would be the perfect fit. I was sure, too...until the email arrived. She doesn't think my writing is there yet. This editor is Big 5 Adjacent. She has edited books I love and worked with authors I admire. If she doesn't think my writing is there yet, it must not be. Tears well as every negative voice in my head clamors for my attention. My heartbeat is a knife, painful and sharp. I hurt everywhere. The editor murdered my baby and told me it was ugly. That's my best book, I think. I can't do better than that. My best isn't good enough. The funny thing is, the editor is right. I just don't know it yet.
That day in the car, my world collapsed and left me to collect the broken pieces. I don't handle criticism well, so it took me a while to build myself back together after that particularly harsh rejection. And while everything inside me rankled and fell apart, I'm able to look back on that day with newfound wisdom and maturity. The editor was right, and here are 5 reasons why.
1. My dialogue wasn't tight enough.
It's no secret that I love writing dialogue, and sometimes, I write a little too much of it. This has prompted my mother to speculate that perhaps there's a screenplay in me. And maybe she's right, and someday, I will let hand over the reins to my inner dialogist and let them write as much dialogue as they want. Until that day, I will continue cutting superfluous dialogue from my books and tighten it as much as possible.
2. I used to be a little filter word happy.
Ahhh, filter words. My Kryptonite and my crutch. The bad habit I can't quit. Suffice to say, I didn't always understand what filter words were and how they distanced the reader from the narrative. When I look back on older works, every paragraph is littered with filter words. Someone is either realizing or noticing or spotting or feeling or watching or seeing. I'm such a quick drafter that I still get a little filter word happy when I pound out my first drafts. Only now, I have knowledge on my side and can reword sentences to make them stronger and more active.
3. I was content to stay in my literary comfort zone.
I once christened 2019 the "year of my YA Romance zenith." That year, I wrote three books in rapid succession, one of which actually caught the attention of my now-agent. However, as I go back and read those older books, it does not escape my notice that they have a similar feel and tone. I basically found a writing formula that worked and didn't stray outside the lines. And while I do feel some of that is just my voice and style, I've also matured to the extent that I want to do things differently. I want to try out different tropes, write different types of characters, craft new scenarios. While I am someone who hates change and loves convention, that mindset no longer applies to my writing.
4. I wasn't as mature as a writer back then.
Don't get me wrong: I love (and am infinitely proud of) my older works. But a lot of my older books are more surface level than what Current Abbie prefers. Granted, I don't claim to write existential, speculative, keep-readers-guessing-and-blow-their-mind-with-a-plot-twist-worthy-of-M.-Night-Shyamalan-comparisions fiction, because my genre doesn't really allow for that. It is inherently more tropey and predictable, and I think most readers and even authors are okay with that. Different strokes and all. However, I'm more drawn to stories that are fluffy with heart. Less cotton candy and more funnel cake. Something sweet but still a little filling. That element was missing from a lot of my older works, so if that's what prompted that editor to say my writing wasn't there yet, I couldn't agree more.
5. I did have better books in me.
That's it. That's the reason. I do have more high concept and interesting ideas, some already written, some still trundling about my brain. That book truly wasn't my best. And while that rejection hurt me to the core, Current Abbie couldn't be more grateful for it. If only the girl who sobbed her eyes out in the parking lot that day knew what was in her future.