The hardest part of being a writer, especially a novice writer, is dealing with rejection. It’s something we know we have to face and we try to prepare, but when that response arrives from the editor or publisher or agent, it still hurts. There’s no getting around that.
I’ve been writer professionally for almost twenty-five years. While most of my work has been non-fiction (newspaper and magazine articles, grant writing, copywriting), I’ve always persisted with my fiction writing and, in turn, have received my fair share of rejection letters.
In fact, I was so eager to get my first one over and done with that my first submission was a poem to the New Yorker magazine. I knew that with no experience and no writing credits to my name, the magazine wouldn’t be interested in anything I had to offer. I was right, and so my first rejection letter was from one of the most esteemed magazines in the world.
So what did I do with it? I started a Wall of Rejection. Basically, I hung a bulletin board on the wall next to my computer and began hanging my rejection slips there like trophies. I figured that my stories were going to be rejected. There was no getting around that. But I also didn’t want to get discouraged when they arrived. It seemed to me that the best thing I could do was own those rejections, be proud of them. In a way, rejections are a badge of honor. It means I was writing and submitting, that I wasn’t giving up.
I received probably ten or twelve form rejections at first. Not unexpected. But then I received one that had a handwritten note at the bottom. I don’t recall the exact wording, but it was along the lines of, “not bad, try again.” I was ecstatic.
Of course, more rejections came in, but there were also more handwritten notes from editors. Not a lot, but enough to encourage me to continue writing and submitting. Eventually, I received an acceptance. Then another. Then another. They were still outnumbered by their counterpart, but it was progress.
Now here I am, quite a bit older and hopefully a little bit wiser. I still collect my rejections, but nowadays they are in email. I stopped printing them when my bulletin board ran out of space. During a move I filed them away in my archive (an old filing cabinet). Every so often, when I’m feeling unmotivated, I’ll retrieve that folder and look through it to remind myself how far I’ve come.
Rejection doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I channeled mine into motivation and badges of honor. I realized early on that a rejection doesn’t mean my writing isn’t good enough. I simply may have chosen the wrong market, or the wrong time of year, or maybe my story didn’t appeal to that specific editor. It wasn’t about me or my abilities. It’s just a part of life. Maybe even more so for writers. But we have to own the rejections so they don’t own us.
Now it’s time to submit another story. Wish me luck.