I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about rejection, considering I have so very little in my life. I don’t date (which works well with the whole being-married thing), I’m not out of work and looking for a job (I’m self-employed), I don’t compete in sports, politics or even the lottery. And yet, surveying a bunch of long e-mail threads I’ve had with people in 2009, I see a few subjects popping up again and again. The top 9 are:

9. God

8. Marriage

7. Beauty

6. Age

5. Parenting

4. Money

3. Politics

2. Time

1. Rejections

Yes, the greatest of these was Rejection.


Well, because I’m a writer. Now, I know there are lots of writers who never ever get rejections –they never submit anything. And I’m sure there have even been some blessed souls who submitted their work and sold it with nary a rejection (before their fellow writers lashed them naked to trees and peeled the skin from their bodies with clam shells, all the while telling each other how very happy we are for their success).

But most of us get our stories rejected. WE get rejected. If you think it doesn’t feel like the same thing, then you’ve never experienced the maddening schizophrenia that comes with the creative brain. Part of our brains always expects Stephenie Meyer-level success. The other part girds its loins (brain loins!) against the onslaught of criticism, belittling, and possible violence sure to come from anyone who sees us attempting to do something so obviously above the level of our meager abilities.

For someone like me, someone who is not naturally imbued with grace and aplomb, rejection is a bitch. She whispers the worst insults in my ear while raising a 2×4 behind my head. And as soon as she’s run out of heart-deadening half-truths to release into my ear like those awful creatures in Star Trek, she raises that board to bludgeon the rest of my ego free of my body. It’d be easier to split me open like an overripe cantaloupe and watch the seeds of inspiration fly chaotically to the dirt.

But I am determined to be a writer. The kind of determined that has stripped most of my ego off in slick strips I can make into shoes to keep me walking onward. My determination is fed by continuous hunger to try to fill all those gaps I can see between the stories in my mind and my ability to bring a story to the page. My determination is massive and undying.

So the only way I’ve been able to keep myself going through hundreds of rejections for my handful of sales is to change how I see rejection. Sure, there’s some delusion in here. A dash of denial. Some whimsy and naiveté dance above the scales that weight my rejections and acceptances. There’s tricks of work and tricks of the mind and tricks of the industry that I juggle when I can. And when I can’t juggle, I drop everything and break out into a scuffy little dance to draw the eyes away from my failures.

All this brings me to 9 ways I’ve come to think about rejection.

  1. It’s the same as having an envelope stamped Return to Sender: Address Unknown. I just sent the wrong piece to the wrong person at the wrong time.
  2. It’s a timing thing. Maybe they just got the same sort of story submitted by someone whose name alone sells copies. It’s not that my story is bad, just that my name is not well known. Yet.
  3. Maybe the editor had a very bad day and can’t see brilliance of any sort. I know I’ve had days when even a sunset pissed me off.
  4. The story is destined for better. If I’d sold some of my stories to the first place I sent them I would’ve missed out on greater sales later.
  5. Maybe I’m not ready for success yet. I’ll just keep sending stories out while I continue to work on making myself a better person, the kind of person who can at least fake grace and aplomb in the face of good reviews and awards.
  6. My karma’s getting dingy. Time to try to help and support other writers.
  7. I need rejections to keep balancing the scales I see in my head. Only when there are enough rejections to tip the scales will I achieve a sale.
  8. The editor is biased against … (insert ridiculous reason here: women, Nevadans, freelancers, bloggers).
  9. The editor is obviously just irretrievably stupid.

Keep in mind I’ve been an editor (nonfiction, though), so I can safely say almost any of these reasons could be true (except 9. I’ve never met a truly stupid editor). And I do actually know that even given these comforting stories I tell myself, it’s still possible that my story simply sucked. But I can’t really know why a story is rejected. And I’m not capable of judging the suckage of my own work any more than I can see anything but brilliance and charm in my son.

So regardless of the reason for rejection, all I can do is keep sending the work out.

    Everything else is just me telling myself stories.

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    8 Responses
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    5. Stef says:

      I still have my first rejection letter. I was so pleased that they acknowledged me as a writer. I put it in that beautiful Cherry wood box shaped like a book that you gave me when I graduated from college. I still think a lot about writing. Thinking, not doing. I spend so much time tending to the little lives in my world, (mama mama mama ) not enough to follow my dreams. Of course if I put the same amount of time into writing that I spend on Facebook, I may have half a novel completed by now.

    6. Rob Sabo says:

      Perpective: The first Harry Potter book was rejected 12 times. I think I read somewhere the Jo Rowling is the first billionaire author.

    7. Des says:

      Great imagery, great advice, great post! Now I’m going to have to learn to juggle while dancing–

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