Return to sender

January 18th, 2008

And so we come to the end of our series on writing, the day that we confront the rather convincing body of evidence that no one likes you, no one wants to read you, no one wants to publish you and you’ll never work in this town again.

No, no, no, no, no, no. A million times no.

First you start showing people your work. No.
Then you start sending queries. No.
Then you try an essay or article. No.
Then you start sending proposals or manuscripts. No.

Not at this time. Not a right fit. Not a good match. No.

I mean yes.

Because every one of these dead ends is a beginning. Seriously. This is not cotton candy rainbow fairy talk. Every time you hear no, every time the door slams, it swings back open just a crack and gives you a glimpse of where you should go. And it’s never that far away.

Sure, every time I went to the inbox or the mailbox and saw that SASE shoot me straight back through the heart, I fell hard. I fell face first. I laid there in the dirt. I rolled in it; I covered myself in it; I was filthy dirty low. Then eventually I’d get up and dust off.

“I’m giving up!” I’d tell my husband as I crept back to the desk, opened a file and started over. We tell ourselves that these blind, idiotic, insensitive, stupid editors and agents are blind, idiotic, insensitive and stupid. But they are usually right. It really isn’t the time, fit or match. You really haven’t finished. You really aren’t ready. You still have a little turn or two to make.

Rejections usually point you to the last place you want to go, dammit. To the place you’re afraid of exploring in your work, to the discipline and the form, to the point you’re afraid to make, to the authority you’re afraid to claim, to the resistance you so stubbornly clutch.

One day I really did give up. I stopped trying to sound like someone I wasn’t. I stopped hiding from who I really was. I stopped making stuff up! The very place you fear you are lacking is your source of hidden treasure. Go there.

If you’re afraid to start, start.
If you’re afraid to say it, say it.
If you’re afraid to cut it, cut it.
If you’re afraid to send it, send it.
If you’re afraid to try, try.
If you’re afraid to change it, change it.
If you’re afraid to let go, let go.
If you’re afraid to give up, give up. It won’t be the last of you!

No matter where it leads, trust your life completely and you’ll end up someplace new. In that spirit, I make a deep bow to the glorious eye, hand and heart of Denise, who just this week proved my point in multitude. Not only did she give this gift to her beautiful pregnant friend Stacie, they both gave the gift back to me. You see it here. And that’s how it always ends. I mean begins.

Photo Credit: Boho Photography


  1. No = yes. An equation to live and write by.

    with love & gratitude and in solidarity!

    xo Jena

    Comment by Jena Strong — January 18, 2008 @ 3:35 pm

  2. you’re amazing – i just love you!
    thanks for all the tears and encouragement and everything. Thank you.

    Comment by Mrs. B. Roth — January 18, 2008 @ 3:43 pm

  3. Oh Karen what wonderful words.
    these shall be printed out and kept above my desk where I do my writing.
    I was struck by how much what you wrote is how I feel and what I have seen in birth. (this should come as no surprise as we are always birthing something, even words and books)
    The letting go, giving up. This is what we are afraid of and yet how many times have I seen that this is exactly what happens before we birth. We give up and it is then we realize we are still here, not doing it “right” but doing what needs to be done.
    And going where we fear to go? Yet another gate of labor.
    Thank-you for this.

    Comment by bella — January 18, 2008 @ 8:16 pm

  4. “Does not meet our editorial needs at this time . . .”

    Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the material wasn’t really meeting MY needs at this time. Or, perhaps, viewing it that way would just make me feel better.

    Comment by Mama Zen — January 18, 2008 @ 10:32 pm

  5. Yes! Wonderful!

    Comment by Shelli — January 19, 2008 @ 2:40 am

  6. Sometimes I feel I shall forever be rejected, and then I feel silly for being taken over by insecurity. Sometimes I believe that I’m a writer and that I am going to be published, and then I feel guilty for being deluded or arrogant. Not quite sure how to balance those except to keep writing and just be sure of that.

    Comment by marta — January 19, 2008 @ 5:12 am

  7. i’m with bella. i better print this out.

    the No is a way to Yes.

    also, as bella said, this is birth, this is the way it works. i feel it now…riding the cusp of saying no to birth, wanting to stay pregnant, this beautiful being making me all round and lush, staying safely inside me; warm and easy to take care of. but with the now, the path is being carved for the yes, to this human, this flesh, that yes, I am ready to become Mama again.


    Comment by mb — January 19, 2008 @ 6:36 am

  8. Thank you for this whole series of posts. I’ve been feeling like I’m right on the verge of a few new things in my writing in recent months. You’ve made me consider that not only have I let fear stand in my way too often, I might be overlooking things I already have.

    Comment by TZT — January 19, 2008 @ 8:23 pm

  9. Ok, so when are you going to address “writing?” 🙂

    This is about life, my life, the way I read it today. It’s beautiful. Art in words. Another day I’ll read it and it’ll probably be about writing. This is going inside my journal cover. Thank you.

    Comment by Moanna — January 19, 2008 @ 8:24 pm

  10. Yes friends, Bella, MaryBeth, Moanna, all: we can say this is about writing, birthing, living; it is about everything, because it’s all one thing! Now, can you see it? Because the freedom is right there. The release, the fearlessness and the pure joy. It is my complete honor to meet all of you in this one place.

    Comment by Karen — January 19, 2008 @ 11:07 pm

  11. So happy I found your blog through Bella and Jena. I simply love this. I have a good friend, Sam, who always says, “Do it afraid” That sentence has empowered me to act, instead of merely thinking and feeling.

    Love your voice. Hope to come back here often.


    Comment by lahdeedah — January 22, 2008 @ 8:39 am

  12. you, and denise, are truly gifts.

    thank you for your words. beautiful.


    Comment by stacied — January 22, 2008 @ 5:38 pm

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