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Community Post: Not Okay with “Okay”

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A few years ago a literary agent turned me down after he read my query letter and a couple chapters of my manuscript. After I received the rejection, I responded to his email with a question. “So is it the lack of platform,” I asked him, “or the quality of the writing…or both?”

He answered quickly. “To tell you the truth, Michelle, it’s both,” the agent wrote. “You don’t have a strong enough platform yet, but the bigger issue right now is your voice. Your writing is okay, but your voice needs work.”

Staring at that terse reply on my computer screen, I felt like I’d been flattened by a steamroller. Fourteen times.

“Okay? Okay!? My writing is ‘okay’? My voice needs work?” I ranted at the computer. “Two years it took me to write this stupid book, and you tell me it’s ‘okay’? That it needs work? Are you kidding me?”

I then promptly burst into tears and proceeded to weep soundlessly through three straight games of Candy Land with my then-preschool-aged son. Rowan didn’t notice my silent tears. Or perhaps he simply assumed I was weeping over my inability to move past the Gumdrop Mountains.

That was the day I quit writing and gave up my dream to publish my book. “It’s too hard, too disappointing,” I lamented to my husband later that evening. “There are too few rewards. There aren’t any rewards!”

My husband listened with compassion and empathy, and then he asked me a single question: “Can you imagine your life without writing?”

I didn’t even have to think about it. “No,” I answered Brad. “No. I can’t image my life without writing.”

“Well then keep at it,” Brad encouraged. “Keep writing. Something will come of it.”

Not long after receiving the agent’s abrupt assessment of my writing, I hired a professional editor to work with me on the manuscript. The editor observed two voices competing on the pages: the personal, memoirish voice and the instructional voice. The two voices didn’t play well together, the editor concluded; switching from one voice to the other was unsettling to the reader. It was a major flaw in the manuscript, and it would need to be fixed.

The agent had been right. But I would never have realized or acknowledged it if I hadn’t made the decision to swallow my indignation and my bruised feelings and press on. My own pride and self-confidence had blinded me to the fact that the book wasn’t perfect, that my writing still needed work.

I wish I could tell you that reworking the manuscript was an inspiring, fulfilling process. But it wasn’t. It was work--grueling, tedious, slow work. Another entire year passed before the manuscript was ultimately accepted by a different agent. And it was another two years before that agent was able to sell the book to a publisher.

I’m grateful my husband asked me that pointed question the day the agent rejected my manuscript. Brad helped me see that my life wouldn’t be complete without writing. And I’m even strangely grateful the agent offered such a searing criticism of my work. Without it, I might have been satisfied with writing that was merely “okay.”

Moving Beyond Mediocrity

This article is part of our series, Moving Beyond Mediocrity. How often in your daily life do you think, “I wish I could do better”? It’s the feeling you get when you realize you aren’t really trying. Your job, your family, even your hobbies: they are worth working harder. But what does it take to move beyond mediocrity? How do you quit using your education, your upbringing, your circumstances, even your faith, as an excuse to keep you from doing your best? Join us as we discuss giving it our all in our workplaces and our homes, in our communities and our churches, for the common good and for the glory of God. Also, consider inviting others to join you by sharing these stories via email, Facebook, Twitter, or networks you are part of.

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