Friday Speak Out!: Onward!!!

Friday, April 17, 2020
by Angelica R. Jackson

I realized I’ve been querying for so long that I can remember the days when writers hoarded boxes to ship weighty, printed manuscripts to addresses in New York; I even saved uncancelled stamps from our own mail to reuse on my submissions. So many mail rooms have received envelopes from me decorated with a hodgepodge of stamps and a veneer of dried rubber cement.

Or, I could go further back to when I was still in high school, writing science fiction stories that the genre magazines turned down as derivative (rightly so). Over the years, the rejections mounted; I sold several freelance articles, but it was twenty years before I finally got a yes on a fiction piece.

Someone asked me recently what kept me going and I knew the answer immediately: it was the form rejection I received from a literary journal with a handwritten note of encouragement scrawled across it. The editor had added a single word, “Onward,” followed by no less than three exclamation marks. Although the comment lacked specificity, it galvanized me when I was feeling particularly low.

From then on, whenever I was discouraged, I’d cry “Onward!!!” and write a new story, or join another writing workshop, or dissect a beloved novel for its structure. I took it as an order to continue to grow and learn while I waited to be discovered.

That one word made me into a better writer, or at least it made me feel validated enough to put the work in to become a better writer. It carried me through short stories and novel drafts and the harrowing query process.

Some years later, we moved house and I came across my folder of rejection letters. I’d saved them with the goal of using the papers to decoupage a bookcase for my to-be-published-someday books, as a way to thumb my nose at the editors who had failed to recognize my early genius. But as I read through them, I discovered these pages didn’t hold any sentiment for me any longer: no pang of rejection, no angst directed at the sender. They’d lost their power.

The only one I really wanted to keep was that treasured form rejection with the handwritten note. I finally found it and held it up to the light, expecting to hear a chorus of angels in the room. Instead, I noticed that the “Onward!!!” wasn’t handwritten—it had actually been photocopied along with the form rejection. It wasn’t meant for me personally at all.

Or was it? Since I’d taken it for my own personal mantra, it had done its job. Like Dumbo’s feather that made him fly, I discovered that the magic had been inside me the entire time—or if not magic, an inner stubbornness and determination that kept me writing and submitting.

So now I’m passing it on to whoever needs it, to borrow my motto and keep writing and growing. Onward!!!

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 Angelica R. Jackson is a writer, photographer, and avid naturalist living in the Sierra foothills of California. She is the author of the award-winning Faerie Crossed young adult urban fantasy series, and her photos are collected in Capturing The Castle: Images of Preston Castle.
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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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8 comments:

Sioux Roslawski said...

Angelica--I have one of my rejection letters framed on my "office" wall. Sometimes those letters include encouragement.

I suggest YOU handwrite "Onward!!!" on a piece of paper and frame it, so you can keep it in your view when you write. After all, it was sent to you from an agent/publisher but it was your embrace of it that's kept you going all these years.

Keep the momentum going. Keep the mojo working. Embrace the power that's inside you.

And thanks for this post. It came at the perfect time.

Deborah-Zenha said...

I, too, remember those ms shipping boxes! There was a poet in Kentucky who papered his office wall with rejection slips, and another writer who swore you could not even call yourself a writer until you'd received a minimum of 100 rejections. Both those approaches have helped to keep me going over the decades, and now I add "Onward!" to my toolkit. Thank you so much for this.

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Thanks, Sioux! Would it be too cheesy to say that "Onward!!!" is already part of my self, so I don't need it on the wall? ;)

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Deborah-Zenha, I've definitely surpassed the 100 mark just with my first book manuscript!

I love how Jane Yolen shares about her rejections--she's very matter-of-fact that they are a part of writing and submitting, even with as many published books she has in the world.

Margo Dill said...

I agree that this is a great post. I love that the editor wrote ONWARD!!! Isn't it amazing how we can be inspired by people who may not even realize that they have inspired us. Thanks for sharing! Onward!

Angela said...

I vote for a tattoo, complete will all three exclamation points!!! ;)

This is a great story, Angelica, and I WISH I would've saved some of my written rejection letters. I admit to shredding some of them, but they are a great reminder of how far we've come. And I still get digital rejections all the time!
20 years to get a yes on your fiction is a testament to your strength and persistence as a writer. The irony in finding out Onward was stamped, but it doesn't matter. You took those words and flew with them. Bravo! :)

Your post is such a great example of rejection acceptance. I'm going to highlight your post in WOW's next email newsletter! =o) It'll help a lot of writers. Thank you!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Or as Stan Lee always said - Excelsior!

What excellent advice about taking your inspiration wherever you find it.

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Thank you Margo, Angela, and Sue! I'm finding working at home while my husband also works at home challenging, so I'm definitely clutching at that "Onward!!!" once again!

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