I took a creative writing workshop my sophomore year of college on the topic of publishing. Fifteen eager undergraduates arrived with notebooks and pens, ready to learn exactly what it would take to see our names in print.
My professor pulled out a thick manila folder and set it out on the table. “I brought you all of my rejection slips,” she said, and proceeded to pass them around the room.
Some notes were small and hand cut, where an editor would print four rejection forms to a page to save paper. Some were printed on extra thick blue or yellow paper. Some were handwritten and rather thoughtful. One rejection letter simply read: Thank you for your submission. Your work is not a good fit at this time.
As it turns out, rejection is an inevitable part of publishing, and of life.
Even our well-respected, widely-published professor had a large amount of rejection letters saved in her drawer, and these weren’t even the entire lot. Although we discussed cover letters, researched literary magazines, and debated the merits of having an agent, what we really spent the quarter learning about was confidence.
Creatives are at great risk of rejection wounding us like a bullet to the heart. We wrestle with the work, wrestle to put it out for the world to embrace, then wait and see how it fares, so it’s only natural that we take things, well...personally.
One of the best lessons to embrace is this: We will not inspire everyone.
There are billions of us, and it's unrealistic to assume that our message is meant for them all. In a way, this is a really freeing idea. @@Focus on the people who resonate with your message, and leave the rest.@@
The key to feeling more comfortable with rejection is how you respond when you receive it, and not to let it bring you down and stop you from pursuing your creative work.
Rejection is important because it reminds us of these truths, pushes us to revise and revisit, and helps our skin thicken up for the years ahead.
3 ways to embrace rejection
1. Step away from the page
When the work is finished, think of it as being no longer yours. You were the messenger, and now the message is ready to be spread to others. If a rejection slip arrives in the mail or your inbox, use it as an opportunity to think through the pages a bit more. Take a walk, change a word, make it better.
2. Don't internalize it
This is easier said than done at the beginning, but you have to see the bigger picture and not take it completely personally. If the piece wasn’t right for the publication, that doesn’t mean you are not right as a person. Always remember that.
3. Keep Submitting
Perseverance pays off eventually. See the writer’s life as a marathon instead of a race and you’ll fare much better.
For the confident, rejection should not sting. Instead, it provides an opportunity.
If our work does not find a home, we can make a plan to move forward and decide whether or not to make changes. We can look at the page with fresh eyes and refine our vision. We have another chance to improve things.
Elizabeth Gilbert has a refreshing take on the whole thing.
It’s a good philosophy to take to heart at any time of year. Just work with a great enthusiasm and strong conviction, and don’t be afraid to share your work when it’s time. Then let it go and trust it will make it’s way in the world.