When You Want to Quit, Find Your Magic Number
BY DARLENE P. CAMPOS
I did a terrible thing recently.
Tropical Storm Imelda hit Houston on September 19th and two days prior, I went to a grocery store to stock up on necessities just in case of a flood (Hurricane Harvey memories, y’all). The minute I got home, I put my groceries away and hopped on my computer to sign paperwork for a side gig I got with an education company. The gig involves writing short stories, so I was excited to sign the official documents.
But when I opened my inbox to fetch the paperwork files, I had a new email. My contract with Vital Narrative Press is fulfilled with the release of Heaven Isn’t Me, so I’ve been sending my fourth novel to various agents and publishing houses to acquire a new contract since February 1st of this year. This email was from an agent I believed to be the one. This agent praised my manuscript from the first day we interacted. This agent absolutely loved my sample pages, asked for more pages, and eventually asked for the entire book because she enjoyed the characters so much.
However, this email was a rejection. And if that wasn’t a blow enough, I received two additional rejections as well—a total of 66 so far.
I ran upstairs, grabbed the printed copy of my manuscript, tossed it in my bathtub, immersed it in water, and when it was softened enough, I tore the pages to shreds. I tore until the book resembled confetti. I tossed the pieces into a big trash bag. Minutes later, I sat on my bed and sobbed.
While I ultimately did sign the paperwork for my new side gig, I didn’t that evening. I thought the senior editor made a huge mistake in hiring me. My mind raced with several thoughts:
Why would they want my work?
Why would they want to pay me for my work?
I’m not a writer.
I’m someone pretending to be a writer.
66 people in the world think I’m terrible. 66.
First thing tomorrow, I’m emailing the senior editor and I’ll tell her I’m not qualified for the job.
While I do extensive research for all my novels, this novel was different. It’s based off true accounts from interviews I conducted with people who witnessed the events which take place in the story. I traveled to Washington D.C. to research for several hours in a museum’s archives. I also saved over a thousand resources onto a flash drive and spent more hours going through the resources when I got home. I read dozens of personal histories from people who passed away. This novel is different because it involves amazing accounts of people I grew close to and with the stack of rejections, all I could think was I failed everyone.
My husband came home from work half an hour later. He asked me what was wrong, and I told him everything, including what I had done to my manuscript. I had thrown the book away earlier this year, but that time, my husband found it in the trash and bought it back in the house despite my protests.
This time, the book was destroyed.
My husband dried my tears with his hands, hugged me, and whispered, “It’s okay, I have an electronic copy of your book saved on my laptop. Don’t give up.”
“I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life,” I told him. “Writing this book and thinking I could have success with it was the stupidest thing I’ve ever thought and done.”
“It wasn’t stupid,” he said and kissed my forehead. “Think of all the people you met, all the cool things you saw at the museum, all the personal stories you read – you were so happy when you wrote this book. Remember those classmates in your writing classes who told you you’d never make it? Don’t let them win.”
Don’t let them win.
As of September 1st, I’ve contacted a total of 80. I have 14 left to hear from. But I haven’t contacted any other agents or publishing houses since the incident.
Maybe #81 will be the magic number.
I won’t let them win. I won’t let my self-doubt win. I won’t let my imposter syndrome win. And that goes for you, too. Remember those who told you couldn’t and whatever you do, don’t let them win. They think they can win the fight.
But you’re stronger.
When you want to quit, take a deep breath and go find your magic number.
Darlene P. Campos earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Texas at El Paso. She also graduated from the University of Houston with a BA in English-Creative Writing and a minor in medicine and Social Studies. She is from Guayaquil, Ecuador, but currently lives in Houston, TX with her husband David and an adorable pet rabbit named Jake. Her website is www.darlenepcampos.com. You can support her work here.