Rejection is hard. But there’s no way to thrive and grow as an artist without sharing your work and taking that risk. Right before starting this blog I made a commitment to work harder on sending my work out. As a writer with a full-time day job, I found it hard enough to do the writing, let alone do the work to hone it for publication and make the effort to send it out into the world. But I was excited to start doing it more. And lo and behold, the very first short short story I submitted was accepted to a small literary magazine (online AND in print) in the U.K.! Eagerly I began revising stories and poems to send out and developed an organized list to track this process.
Since that first huge validation, I’ve gotten only rejections (I’m still waiting to hear on work still in the cybersphere, however, and I also sold a piece of artwork). My method is to try to send something out again right away, to maintain my momentum, and I have been trying to do that. It’s a lot of work to do the research and try to match what I hope is the right piece to the right publication. It’s a bit like gambling, and it’s a big risk.
Rejection is a teacher of sorts, though. It teaches you to deal with it. It forces you to focus on the work and remind yourself that the selection process is very subjective and, yes, quite competitive. And that it’s not personal, no matter how hard that is to remember, considering that what’s at stake is something you created from a lifetime of inspiration, study and soul-mining.
Recently an editor rejected a piece and commented that though the piece contained some nice details and descriptions, she didn’t find it that compelling. I felt fortunate to receive a comment in the first place, as that is not the norm. And I found myself revisiting the site realizing that the published pieces there were more compelling that what I had submitted. I felt disheartened for awhile, but since then I’ve gone back and looked at some of my other work that I think might be more substantial and I plan to hopefully re-submit something better. I will also go back to the work I originally sent because I believe the editor was right — the piece needs more substance. It is too superficial. It’s important to have faith in your art, but it’s also helpful to know when you could do better.
I have been heartened recently by reading Tinkers, a novel by Paul Harding. When Harding sent it out to agents and editors, he met with resounding rejection. It was mostly criticized for its slow, quiet pace, and the novel “languished” for three years before finding acceptance by an editor at a tiny independent press who appreciated it. It was published and met with critical acclaim, placing on several year-end “best” lists. And then it won the Pulitzer Prize. Naturally, this is a pretty dramatic and unusual outcome, but it’s a helpful story to remember when prospects seem bleak.
I have also been inspired by writers I know who work hard at their craft and refuse to let discouragement overtake them. My friend Lunden recently won a Pushcart Prize for a piece published by Creative Nonfiction that took months to place. Rejection is teaching me to be as honest as I can about my work, and to pay attention to criticism, if it helps me to improve. Rejection is also teaching me perseverance and patience, without which any chance of success is slim indeed.
“Talent is helpful in writing, but guts are absolutely essential.” – Jessamyn West
“Rejected pieces aren’t failures; unwritten pieces are” — Greg Daugherty
“I wrote for twelve years and collected 250 rejection slips before getting any fiction published, so I guess outside reinforcement isn’t all that important to me.” — Lisa Alther