On Being a Brick Wall

I’m sure most of you are familiar with Randy Pausch’s story and his book, The Last Lecture (co-written with Jeffrey Zaslow). In his lecture and his book, Randy spoke with great wisdom about achieving your childhood dreams.

One of the things he said that resonated with me was that the obstacles to our dreams are like brick walls, put there to test how badly we really want something. He wrote that those brick walls “stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.” Of course, those are the other people. (Not you or me.)

Reading his positive spin on obstacles was freeing for me as a literary agent, because I’m frequently one of the brick walls with whom writers collide in the midst of chasing their dreams.

I read so many good queries from people with good hearts, solid intentions, at least a modicum of talent… but I’m still unable to represent them for whatever reason. I feel bad, not only saying “no” but for being unable to spend more time with each “no,” giving advice, encouragement, tips. I just can’t… but Mr. Pausch’s philosophy makes me feel better about it.

Each time I become the brick wall… each time an author crashes into my “no,” they are forced to reckon with their own dreams. They have to ask themselves once again, “How badly do I want it?” That can’t be a bad thing, right?

For Christian authors, I hope the impact with the brick wall sends them back to God, again and again, ever looking for confirmation, refutation, or clarification of their author-dreams.

So maybe it’s not so bad being a brick wall after all. If I am an obstacle to you achieving your childhood dreams, please take it as motivation to prove how badly you really want it.

Or not.

Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Kim Petersen on January 21, 2009 at 11:36 PM

    >Hey Rachelle,
    This is a great post but I have to ask (as an author waiting to hear back on a query)why do you feel so bad when you have to tell people no?
    I know that no one wants to be the bad guy but the simple truth is you cannot represent everybody and some authors just don’t fit with your house.
    Don’t feel so bad about it. God is the great motivator and comforter and you are only so powerful.
    Thanks for your blog it’s fun daily reading here in India where news comes late and incomplete.
    Kimmie Petersen

  2. Avily Jerome on January 21, 2009 at 6:51 PM

    >That’s a great way to look at things, thanks Rachelle!

    And best of luck with your brick-wall-being! 🙂

  3. Janny on January 21, 2009 at 8:37 AM


    I’m cheering your son on. I hope he DOES become famous! Stars in his eyes are a good thing, IMHO.

    We in creative endeavors, I think, need to keep a little of that stardust always. The trick is keeping your eyes on the stars while trying to discern where the door is in the brick wall. 🙂


  4. Jan Parrish on January 20, 2009 at 11:15 PM

    >Very encouraging post Rachelle! Never give up!

  5. Carol on January 20, 2009 at 3:02 PM

    >A brick wall is temporary, just like all things in life. When we encounter one, it may just mean the timing isn’t right. Perhaps there is more we need to learn before we forge ahead. Perhaps we will discover we were on the wrong path. When our dreams and God’s will meet at the right place and time, He will open the door in the wall—or bring the walls crashing down, as He did for Joshua at Jericho.

    The guidance you provide on your blog gives valuable insight into how aspiring authors can achieve their writing goals. Whether or not you are the wall, or the door that allows access to publication, you’ve given us the tools to use to help make our dreams a reality. Thank you.

  6. Jessica on January 20, 2009 at 1:39 PM

    >Very interesting post. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with thinking of yourself as the wall. I really liked the metaphor, actually. Also, what others said about knowing who put the wall there: that was good.
    Intriguing idea that could be taken all sorts of ways.

    Though I have to confess that rejections don’t feel like a brick wall to me so much. Disappointing, but more like a turn in the path. One says no, so I keep going. Now if the path ends… well, that might mean something. 🙂

  7. Rachel on January 20, 2009 at 11:54 AM

    >I was struck the same way as Inspire: Sometimes, rejection (I guess…especially if it is repeated and consistant) can mean that God isn’t opening a door in a particular direction. Willingness to quit something can be a sign of wimpiness, but it can also be a sign of sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. It is incredibly hard to discern which is at work in me. We all want to spend our time wisely.

  8. Susan on January 20, 2009 at 11:10 AM

    >What an insight and encouragement: thank you Rachelle for this post! Words to work by.

  9. Camille Cannon Eide on January 20, 2009 at 10:53 AM

    >Like Chatty said, it would help know how hard to bang one’s head against that wall if one knew what put the wall there – not a fit or not good enough writing.

    When a fellow writer got word that her book was well written, but there wasn’t a place for it in the pub house’s line and told to keep seeking publication elsewhere, I would like to think that editor was being honest, wouldn’t take the time to give such a response if it weren’t the truth. It would do my friend no good to hear that if in truth her writing wasn’t cutting it.

    Another was told the writing had promise, but the slots few and the competition stiff. Again, an editor took time to give more than a flat “no thanks,” but that sounded like a polite way of saying the writing wasn’t good enough.

    Those responses should send each writer in a different direction to kick up their efforts and climb their own wall. A flat “no” would leave a writer wondering what to believe. Unfortunately, so many people choose to believe what they want and may spend years beating their head against the wrong wall.

    I wish that all editors/agents had time to give a reason for the rejection. It would certainly help direct a writer and save time and needless concussion. 🙂

  10. Dara on January 20, 2009 at 9:57 AM

    >Thanks again for another great post!

    One can break through a brick wall with consistency. But then as others have said, a brick wall can be there because God is trying to show us a different path. It can be hard though to discern which is which, but I also believe that brick walls are also there to help us open our eyes and confront our circumstances, whether it’s an obstacle to overcome or something to put us on a different path.

  11. Tracy on January 20, 2009 at 9:55 AM

    >I keep forgetting that book too! Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom here. Blessings!

  12. Inspire on January 20, 2009 at 9:52 AM

    >Brick walls can be God’s way of saying this is not the way you should go, or this is not what I want for you. I have a young son with stars in his eyes that wants to be a rock star and so is leaving home with his band to go across the country to California thinking he will become famous. The stars in our eyes can blind us from seeing the wall that God has put up in front of us to say no, and when we run up against it, we will either move around it, skirt past it, only to eventually meet another. Or we will be forced to open our eyes and see His will.

  13. Chatty Kelly on January 20, 2009 at 9:45 AM

    >As a writer, the bad thing about form rejection letters are you don’t know whether it’s just not a fit, or if it’s bad. I know how busy editors/agents are, and I respect that. But feedback it is so encouraging from someone in the industry who you respect.

    Feeling Pink Floyd today…all in all it’s just another brick in the wall.

  14. Timothy Fish on January 20, 2009 at 9:12 AM

    >Isn’t that a little like a boy tearing the heads off his sister’s dolls and saying, “I did it so she would learn to stand up for herself?”

    God allowed the children of Israel to face adversity and it made them stronger, but that didn’t keep him from drowning the Egyptian army in the Red Sea. I mention that to say that maybe it isn’t such a good thing to be a brick wall. I don’t think you should see yourself in that way. Last year, I put my publisher’s hat on and I published a book for a man who had run into publishing’s brick wall. So what happens now if someone else sends a manuscript and I decline to publish it? Am I now part of the brick wall? No, I don’t think so. The role of agents and publishers is to assist a few people over the brick wall—not everyone, but a few.

  15. Achim Zahren on January 20, 2009 at 8:56 AM

    >I wrote a story outline once about a guy who woke up one day to find all the obstacles in his life had been removed. People in traffic moved aside and let him through. His boss readily gave him the raise he asked for and everywhere he went all he heard was yes. All forms of resistance in his life were suddenly gone and it was like the movie where Jim Carey played God and just said yes to everyone’s prayers. Everything in this guys life was yes. There was no longer any push back, there was no gravity left to hold him down and it eventually drove him crazy.
    I am about to leave for the gym and I am hoping to lift more than I did yesterday. The weight’s resistance will help make me stronger. A well meaning person would be doing me a disservice if they removed any of it.

  16. Janna Qualman on January 20, 2009 at 7:55 AM

    >Somehow, The Last Lecture is a book I keep forgetting about. I really need to get a copy.

    Thank you for doing the sometimes difficult job you do, and for being honest with us about it. Today’s post makes me feel better about the rejections I’ve received. Maybe (some of) those agents felt much the way you have. And there’s hope yet! One brick at a time…

  17. lynnrush on January 20, 2009 at 6:42 AM

    >Never quite looked at a brick wall like this, but it makes total sense.

    Great post, Rachelle.