Tuesday, July 24, 2012

From the Trenches: It's a Jungle Out There

"You just don't know how to use the English language." Many authors who receive a cruel rejection such as this one might throw away their dictionaries, burn their thesaurus and develop a deep hatred of the literary world. The author who received this letter ended up writing one of the world's most beloved books instead, a story so good that Disney couldn't wait to get their hands on it 75 years later. 

Rudyard Kipling received the quote above in a rejection letter from an editor at the San Francisco Examiner. To his credit, the editor prefaced the quote with "I'm sorry," though any author knows this small courtesy probably didn't do much to ease the sting.  

 Inner Strength

Kipling lived an interesting life. He was born in 1865 in Bombay and was immersed in the world of the arts early, spending time around painters and sculptors. He didn't find his love of words until he was a college student in north Devon 13 years later. He began working as a journalist and editor in 1882 after returning home to India, but didn't get anything of his own published until 1886. Kipling followed up on his poetry with a volume of short stories a year later, and began to publish prolifically over the next few years. By 1892, Kipling was a huge success.

But before he found success, he was getting rejection letters like the one quoted at the top of this post. Rudyard Kipling didn't have an easy childhood. He spent time in a foster home and later, had bad experiences in boarding school because he was bullied and teased mercilessly. Cruel rejection letters belittling his ability could have easily dampened his love of the written word and made him doubt his own talent. 

Luckily, it didn't. Rudyard Kipling was a prolific writer, and a resilient one, and he kept on scribbling away anyway. During his lifetime, Rudyard Kipling won the Nobel Prize for Literature and published more than 15 books that included poetry, short story collections and full-length novels. He is best known for The Jungle Book, published in 1894, a story that's still well-beloved today.

Rudyard Kipling wrote in the writing trenches in spite of rejection, even when he was told he had no idea what he was doing. He believed in himself, and in his work, and he went on to prove that silly editor wrong millions of bestselling copies over.

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