Rejection Isn’t Fatal

When I first began writing, rejection of my work surprised me. I was so full of myself that I thought those golden words were perfect.

That first rejection was a pink slip of paper smaller than a postcard. On it were printed a few reasons why the editors turned down the writer’s work. My checkmark bloomed on the box next to the ever-popular “Doesn’t suit our needs.”

Looking back, I’m not surprised it came back to me. The story was dull and silly. I misspelled the editor’s name. I enclosed a few poems along with that story. To add insult to injury, I also told her if she didn’t want anything I’d sent, please pass it on to another editor who might. Arrogant little cuss, wasn’t I? I was also young and inexperienced.

A few years later, when I began writing with serious intent, those rejections letters continued to stun and to sting. Why didn’t those editors tell me the reason they returned my work? Finally, I sought out a writers group. (There was no such thing as online support groups back then.) I listened and learned. Soon, my rejection letters became actual correspondence and not just impersonal forms. They pointed out the flaws in my work. I noticed something important: Every editor and agent mentioned the same type of flaws no matter what I sent to them.

It was time to take a fresh look at how I executed my stories. So I studied writers whose work I loved; I dissected why a particular character or a certain turn of phrase appealed to me, and why others left me cold. I learned how to overcome my weaknesses and turn them into some of the strongest parts of my stories.

One day I took an SASE from the mailbox. I opened it, pulled the letter up long enough to see it was a short story rejection, shoved it back into the envelope and returned to the house. I was going to throw the stupid thing away, then stopped. I keep my rejection letters. They are proof that I’m working. I took that letter completely out of the envelope so I could file it. There, at the bottom, an editor had added this handwritten note, “If you’ll change the age of your character, I think we have a sale here.” Sometimes it happens that way. Be sure you take a good, close look at all your rejection slips. You might be missing something. You might be missing more than you realize.

When I finally stopped throwing myself face-first onto the bed and squalling my eyes out, when I ceased ranting about being misunderstood, when I quit sulking because those stupid blind people in New York City didn’t know their head from a hole in the ground . . . when I finally opened my eyes and my mind and, yes, my heart to listen, I learned. Rejection was the best teacher of all. If my first story had been accepted, I might have gone through life writing silly, insipid little stories for drab little publications and never learned the art of being present in the scene and tapping deep into the psyche of my characters.

Embrace rejection when it comes. Realize acceptance will happen . . . when you are ready.