Trying to break into the writing industry takes effort. First, you have to write stuff. And then you have to send it away, at which point you experience a very unique combination of pride (I’m finished it!), excitement (I’m submitting it!), embarrassment (it’s awful), and morbid depression (they’ll hate it. I’m stupid. I suck at writing). Then you wait, and wait, and wait* for the response, and when you see the email, you kind of already know what lies within. And most of the time, it’s a ‘thanks but no thanks.’
Sigh. Oh, well.
I’ve had several rejections recently, and I’m really OK with that. I’ve become a lot better at handling them – I feel a sense of disappointment, of course, but I don’t take them personally, because the rejections are not personal. They’re simply saying to me that my work wasn’t the exact piece that was required, and it doesn’t mean that my writing is bad.
I realise that I possibly sound a little too enlightened. I’m really not. It has certainly taken me a while to get to this point! And that doesn’t mean that rejection fills me with delight, and some rejections are better than others. Take two recent ones. The first was for a short story. There was a call for submissions and I sent along a story I’d written a few months ago, and had edited quite extensively, also having had a friend read over it for me to check whether she thought it worked. The editors told me that they’d had many entries of a high standard, and unfortunately, my story had been unsuccessful – but I could always try and submit it for their print journal.
See what they did there? “Not simply no, just not today.” And already, I feel better. I’m not angry, not teary – of course disappointed – but I feel validated. That’s all it took. I have no idea if the story would get published in their print journal, and I may read over it again, and submit it, but the main thing is, they were telling me I wasn’t useless.
The other rejection was a form letter, thanking me for my submission, but telling me that it wasn’t the right fit for the publication. The letter encouraged me to submit again, and then signed off with regards from The Editors. Underneath, just two lines. Two lovely lines:
Please try us again, Rebecca. We really admired your prose and would love to see more of your work.
And this is how you do it.
This is how you take the opportunity to turn a moment which is ultimately a let-down, and make it into something better. This is how you take the time and care to ensure that someone you’ve never met, on the other end of the internet, on the other side of the world, opens your email and feels not quite so badly about not making the cut.
I pondered as I later did the washing up (even almost-accepted writers still need to do their own washing up, apparently. More’s the pity), how our interactions with others rely so heavily on what we choose to say, and what we leave out. I always think that it’s harder to take rejection when it’s related to creative work, but any moment when we put ourselves out there and are told ‘no’ is difficult. It’s the way that ‘no’ is framed, however, which makes a difference. The rejection is always hard, but if the words surrounding it are chosen carefully, then it is easier to recover.
That’s not the only variable, though. It’s also up to the rejectee how they respond. I’ve had rejections which have knocked me out for days, and made me despair so deeply that I start looking for Positions Vacant on the noticeboard at the local supermarket. And these are not ‘YOUR WRITING IS AWFUL. WHY ARE YOU WASTING OUR TIME?’
rejections. These are very much run-of-the-mill, ‘sorry-this-is-not-the-right-fit-for-us’ rejections. I’m not even sure anyone sends out the mean ones anymore. We’re a bit too politically correct, and given the sensitive nature of writers (and sure, I include myself in that category sometimes), that’s probably a good thing.
Rejection of one’s work, even when it’s taken many months or years, countless late nights and early mornings, and several re-writes and edits, isn’t a rejection of the self. It just feels that way, because so much of our ‘self’ goes into it! But perhaps the most important thing to learn about rejection is that it’s up to me how I deal with it. I can choose how to respond; I can choose to see it as a chance for the story to go somewhere else, or to be able to rework it so that it’s better. None of that requires anything from the person who doesn’t want it, this time. It just requires something from me.
Of course, I’m grateful for those editors and publishers who take the time to write something positive about my work. I love when they use my first name, because it shows that it was written just for me. Someone is acknowledging my work, and referring to something worthwhile within it. That makes me feel better, and it makes me consider that perhaps I should ensure that I’m doing the same — not just when I’m talking with others about their work, but also when I’m just dealing with people: my Offspring, the Handsome Sidekick, my family and friends, even those I don’t know well. Even those I don’t like well. I generally assume the best of people, but not always. Rather than focusing on the negative aspects of someone’s character, or even a situation, perhaps it would help if I could see the bit of good in it.
Even if I ultimately choose to reject it…
*I say, ‘wait and wait and wait’ because it’s more poetic, but what really happens is, you get up, make a cup of tea, and then open up the next story you’re working on, and continue with that. Because waiting around for a response is exhausting, and you might as well be doing something productive.