When I enter the Writers’ Room of Boston, the successful works of writers greet me. Displayed in the foyer are the completed masterpieces of WROB members who’ve reached my goal: to publish a book.
The sight is one of accomplishment, passion, pride, hope, persistence, drive, faith, timing, and luck—we have no control over the latter two.
As writers, not one of us escapes rejection. For a long time, I received several rejections a week, sometimes every day. Yet somehow, instead of discouraging me, the rejections fueled me onward. I believed that if I worked hard enough, if I took the “right” steps, if I did the things writers were supposed to, I’d successfully put my words out into the world, connect with others, and reach my goal.
I honed my craft in writing workshops and networked with industry professionals at many writers’ conferences and retreats. I earned not one but two MFAs. Renowned authors became my mentors, encouraging me. I published in magazines and built my “platform.” I signed with a respected literary agent who was excited about my work.
But four years later, with two books unsold, my agent lost his enthusiasm. Eventually, I made the difficult decision to leave him.
I went back to the task of querying.
One by one, I received rejections. I was told that in the current nonfiction market I’d never sell a book, because I wasn’t a celebrity. I was advised to try to break into the publishing business by writing fiction, a genre for which fame wasn’t a prerequisite to becoming a debut author.
So I wrote a novel. One agent who requested the first five pages emailed me her reaction: “Writing fiction is a talent, which you obviously don’t have.”
Worn, I believed her. I put my manuscript away. I felt utter despair. I lost sight of the goals I had already accomplished. I saw only my failure. The encouraging words of my mentors rang hollow in my ears. I lost faith that I’d ever publish a book. I began to think such success simply wasn’t mine to attain.
But I couldn’t stop writing. Call it masochism or tenacity – some days I really didn’t know what it was, but I was driven. I wouldn’t let the publishing business zeitgeist deter me.
When I received the Writers’ Room of Boston Nonfiction Fellowship, I made my way to the State Street office. I turned the key in the elevator panel. I pressed the button for the fifth floor: it lit. I ascended.
When the door opened, an overwhelming sense of acceptance welcomed me.
Now here I am, writing in the Room, feeling renewed purpose and solace in the sound of my fingers typing sentence after sentence, amidst the sounds of other writers doing the same.
In the words of Billy Joel, “I’m keeping the faith, yes I am.” We all are.
-Tracy Strauss, Fellow in Nonfiction