I'm rereading Madeleine L'Engle's journal, A CIRCLE OF QUIET, and I cherish her story of how she decided to stick out the writing life, after ten years of writing book after unpublished book. (The following excerpts are from pages 20-21 for those who want to follow along.)
But during that decade when I was in my thirties, I couldn't sell anything. If a writer says he doesn't care whether he is published or not, I don't believe him. I care. Undoubtedly I care too much. But we do not write for ourselves alone. I write about what concerns me, and I want to share my concerns. I want what I write to be read. Every rejection slip--and you could paper walls with my rejection slips--was like the rejection of me, myself, and certainly of my amour-propre.
Madeleine recounted all the reasons the publishers gave for turning her novels down. For example, publishers rejected A Wrinkle In Time, in part, because they couldn't figure out whether it was a book for adults or children. Thank goodness for today's YA distinction! Other books were rejected because they began with a death, or were too moral. She believed that the tide would turn when she turned forty. So, on her fortieth birthday, when she received the rejection of a novel which had spent enough time at a publication house to give her hope, she was crushed.
This seemed an obvious sign from heaven. I should stop trying to write. All during the decade of my thirties (the world's fifties) I went through spasms of guilt because I spent so much time writing, because I wasn't like a good New England housewife and mother. When I scrubbed the kitchen floor, the family cheered. I couldn't make a decent pie crust. I always managed to get something red in with the white laundry in the washing machine, so that everyone wore streaky pink underwear. And with all the hours I spent writing, I was still not pulling my own weight financially.
So the rejection on the fortieth birthday seemed an unmistakable command: Stop this foolishness and learn to make cherry pie.
Madeleine gave up writing, put away the typewriter, and was filled with despair. Until, that is, she realized that in her head, she was busy writing a novel about failure. It was then that she knew that she had to write.
In the moment of failure I knew that the idea of Madeleine, who had to write in order to be, was not an image.
Madeleine L'Engle published over 60 books in her life time. I'm glad she never learned to make that cherry pie. What do you think? Do you foresee a time when you might give up? Have you had a cherry pie moment? One that made you know that you will write no matter what?