I’ve been thinking for a while about tackling a subject that many of us writers face. Actually, I think it’s a human issue, not simply a first world problem for would-be authors.
Here’s the thing, rejection hurts. It’s like getting slapped in the face. With a puffer fish. It stings, it burns, it leaves you rolling on the floor clutching your face as you shriek pterodactyl noises and whimper over your lost dignity.
No? That last bit is purely me?
But the thing about rejectioon is that it gets easier. No, seriously, it does. The other thing about rejection is that you aren’t alone. Neither am I. We aren’t incompetent buffoons just bumbling about amid a sea of competent people. It only seems that way inside our own heads. In reality, we are incompetent buffoons just bumbling about amid a sea of other incompetent buffoons.
I’m acquainted with one writer who I thought had some sort of golden touch. I mean this individual’s list of impressive credits was, well, impressive (I know, I know, I’m adding “work on adjectives” to my to-do list) and it seemed that she must have professional fantasy and scifi magazines lurking in her closet, waiting to leap out and grab her writing the moment she wrote the final scene. Lurking in a non-creepy sort of way. Of course.
Then she made a comment about hitting her one thousandth rejection. Yes, that’s correct: 1,000th.
Even somebody whose work I considered brilliant–and whose success I envied more than Jesus would consider morally acceptable–received rejections. An unholy, metric crapton of rejections.
And that, my good readers, is part of the fate of a writer. It’s part of all our fates. However, it was through years of rejections in the world of short story writing that I learned how to cope with rejections in other arenas. Jobs. School. Friendship. Rejection weaves its way through all our lives. But I’ve chosen to approach my writing rejections the way I approach weightlifting. Which is to say, that I think of each of these little rejections as a small tear in the muscle fibers that will then heal to make the muscle stronger and let me lift bigger, endure longer, and attain goals I thought beyond my grasp.
I’m a stronger person for experiencing those rejections, and I’m not just saying that as I cry a stream of salty tears into my energy drink. For me, although I have a passion for writing and I have aspirations of one day making my mark in the world of speculative fiction (look, if I can’t dream in my own blog, where can I dream?), rejections from publishers is a low-stakes game. It’s hitting the gym and lifting and enjoying the small gains because they will turn into bigger benefits.
Once or twice before, I’ve mentioned that I’m a grad student. Well, I’m currently working on a masters degree. A year ago, I applied to PhD programs and got . . . one acceptance without funding. Good damn, that was heart-wrenching. What made it especially hard was that, unlike my fiction writing, my education is a high-stakes game–this was my very future that I’d just watched crash and burn as I stood aside like:
It was horrible.
But remember those muscles built up by rejection? Yeah, I flexed those and said, “You know what? I got this.” That time I might have cried into my energy drink, if I’m being honest. But I still had built the resilience to step back, assess the situation and decide that I knew how I could make myself a better candidate. It took a lot of honesty and it took hard work (and support from an awesome spouse who doesn’t get enough credit) but I reassembled my future. Now? Well, I applied again and have received acceptances to some awesome programs.
Without a history of those small rejections that let me strengthen my resilience, there was honestly a time in my life where I would have just thrown up my hands and walked away, completely disgusted with myself.
Marcus Aurelius wrote, “You have power over your mind–not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” As writers, rejections are a reality with which we must contend. They will happen and, most likely, they will happen in droves. So we must ask ourselves what will we do when we receive them. Do we become discouraged and walk away, leaving a dream half-dreamt and consigning our hopes to the nebulous world of What Might Have Been? Or will we grit our teeth and dive back in, swinging twice as hard?
For me, I’ve found that I can even look at many of my rejections as achievements. Sure, I’ve gotten some that are just . . . weird. Once, I got a rejection that started out with, “Congratulations! Your story made it to the final round of consideration. Unfortunately, we are forced to decline your story because [reasons].” Who the heck starts off a rejection with “congratulations!”? But hey, at least they liked the story. Which leads me to my point: When I started out in the world of short story writing, I saw each personal rejection as just another “thanks-but-no-thanks” until I understood that most publications only offer personal rejections on stories that the reader considered worthy of their precious time.
As of right now, I don’t remember the last time I received a rejection that wasn’t a personal rejection with some comment on the story itself. Yes, that’s cold comfort, but it tells me that I’m progressing and it reminds me that I’m a damned good writer. I may not be a great writer, but I’m possibly on my way.
Life’s hard and we’ve chosen a particularly demanding arena into which we step with only our imaginations and our fortitude. But if we can face these rejections and learn from them, we can become stronger and more resilient. Life’s too fleeting for us to lose our hopes to What Might Have Been, to give up on a piece of ourselves because the struggle requires intestinal fortitude. We succeed because we determine that, if we must go down, we’ll go down fighting.
Also, I apologize for the creepy meme. I won’t do that again. Ever. Well, maybe once or twice because I’m not emotionally stable.