sweat, tears, & self-care: handling rejection

After reading Stephen King’s On Writing, I have started a rejection wall of my own. Instead of hanging each rejection letter on a nail until the weight was too much for the nail, I cut out each rejection letter and stuck them on the wall next to my desk. I am now several rejection letters behind because I quite like the number of rejection letters I have on my wall.

My very first rejection was from Daily Science Fiction when I was around twelve or thirteen, a time when my writing had the potential to be good but was far from it; the piece I submitted was quite a clever one (or so I thought at that time) and an obscure and confusing one. I believed with conviction that Daily Science Fiction would surely love a flash fiction piece about a madman who forgot that he committed suicide. Of course, it wasn’t the masterpiece that I had expected it to be, but to cut me some slack, I was only thirteen. I got my very first rejection letter and while it was disappointing, it wasn’t the end of the world.

My second rejection came as more of a blow; this time, it was for a really long piece called Cactus that I had worked pretty hard on (which, eventually got picked up by a literary magazine called TRACK//FOUR).  I submitted Cactus to my favorite literary magazine, The Adroit Journal, and a few days later, realized that I had submitted the wrong version. Panicked, I sent an email to the Editor-In-Chief asking whether I could resubmit the newest version. He of course agreed and went on to tell me to apply for the Adroit Summer Mentorship Program. Good sign right? A few days later, my piece got rejected and I was completely disheartened.

It was after Adroit did I start my rejection wall. The rejection slip encouraging me to apply for the Summer Mentorship Program and resubmit was plastered in the center of the wall space next to my desk, and the letters only grew from there. I got rejected by many more literary magazines that were, to be fair, a long shot to begin with. I got rejected by smaller literary magazines that I thought I could’ve gotten accepted to. I got rejected by so many magazines I stopped counting at a point and stopped sticking rejection slips onto my wall (My suite mate and one of my best friends came into my room later this year and put several sticking notes in between the rejection slips saying that she still loved me).

Each rejection hurt less than the previous one, and after a while, I seem to stop getting upset over a rejection, only skim over it, see that it’s impersonal, and send it straight into my trash. However, it still stung when I clicked the “Declined” button on Submittable and had to scroll down to view all my rejections.

Now, what I want to say about all this is that through all of those many rejections, I have found homes for a few of my works. The ratio is probably some 1:6, which, to be fair, I consider quite good. A person cannot go through life fearing rejection, especially when that person is a creative writer. You will get so many rejection letters; the first one will probably be one. It’s disheartening at first, but then you get used to it, you learn how to use it to your advantage. Most rejection letters go a little bit like this:

“Dear Author, Thank you for submitting to [blah]. After careful consideration, we have decided not to publish [blah] but we encourage you to submit to [blah] again. Thank you, [blah].”

They’re extremely impersonal and do not deserve you pouring over them. On the other hand, when I receive rejection letters with even the slightest personality I get excited and highlight the bits that I don’t think are copy-and-paste. When I get rejections that tell me exactly why my piece wasn’t accepted, I am beyond elated. Those rejections have yet to reach five.

So here’s what I would suggest after any rejection: If it is a heartless one, throw it into the trash; if it isn’t, pour over the critiques like your life depended on it (because in some sense, it does). After that, take a shower/bath to wash all the negativity away. Then light a candle, make some hot chocolate, and snuggle in bed and watch Harry Potter. Take care of yourself because rejections are never personal. They’re just a part of the process.

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