This is how it goes. I submitted a short story to a horror magazine last month and received a response about four days later. Before I clicked open the email, I knew it’d be a rejection, and lo and behold, it was a rejection. I promptly dropped it into my Rejections Folder, bringing the count up to 63 big fat NOs from literary agents and magazines.
Now, some might say I brought the rejection to myself for calling it out. Negative. As a writer, I’ve learned to expect rejection 99% of the time and hope for a positive response 1% of the time. It’s not that I think I’m a shitty writer, or else I would’ve quit torturing myself years ago and slide into living a more normal and stable life like most people. You know, be happy.
But I can’t quit writing because a powerful spirit of creation possesses my body: I must write, create, or I die. I’m totally seriously. This is deeper than a calling. It’s like having a second heart. Kill it and my real heart will die soon after. Try to take it away from me and I’ll cut you off cold. Writing has been with me for twenty-one years. Guess who will win in a relationship? Yes, that’s right.
I live in a passionate hell of my own making: it burns, but the flames are never hot enough to destroy me. Sometimes the flames purify me before they go back to burning again. And so I keep writing and grinding hard to get my work published.
Each literary rejection I receive adds a layer of steel around my heart where now even the criticisms, both helpful and painful, I receive from people in situations unrelated to writing have a minuscule effect on me.
I used to be a highly sensitive person with a raging temper who would chew your head off if you offended me. My response to heated environments would turn me into a twister of dramatic outbursts, rushing to make a series of bad decisions based on my current emotional state. In short, I was a walking bomb of rage, ready to explode at the slightest mean poke.
When I received my first batch of rejections, I wanted to throw my laptop out the window and eat a carton of ice cream to heal my scorched soul. The second and third wave of rejections forced me to work harder to improve my craft, read, write more, edit, rinse and repeat. By the fourth and fifth wave, I knew and understood why I was rejected and simply worked on fixing that.
This is what goes through my head now when I receive a rejection:
Oh, I probably should’ve done this and that, or my style doesn’t suit their tastes. Ok, back at it to do some edits or find new people to submit.
I get a small prick in my chest, of course, because I’m human, but I’m no longer devastated or start cursing everything aside from that one obligatory ah, f**k. My hardened writer mindset propels me forward so I don’t stay stuck in a haze of self-pity or low self-esteem.
I don’t have time for that. There’s writing, editing, reading, and learning to be done, and I, unfortunately, don’t have an android version of myself to do it all. It can be hard and frustrating, but I’ve got to do it anyway.
They say writing to get published is a long waiting game, but for me, it’s also a race against myself. How can I be better than my old self in terms of writing speed, quality, word choice, characterization, pacing, tension, and making a reader laugh out loud or get teary-eyed?
The truth is that this race never ends. I’ve signed up for a lifetime journey of self-discovery, pushing my limits, and experiencing the amazing exhilaration of bringing worlds and characters to life.
All the negatives that come with writing—the self-isolation, neurosis, deadlines, rainstorm of rejections and critiques, and so on—can’t compete with the deep self-satisfaction, self-affirmation, and, definitely for my case, the pure thrill of creating.
Sometimes it’s beyond logic and reason, beyond getting published, beyond living forever in your books; it’s knowing exactly why you exist despite what everyone and everything believes and suggests.
And so it goes like this. I feed on rejections, the criticisms, and the occasional harsh reality checks. I don’t ignore them, though. That’s different and unwise. I use them as fertilizer to help my craft grow into a robust green garden full of vitality and beauty.
As a writer, creative, or any person pursuing a project with an insane passion, we can’t let the failures and defeats snuff us out from under the soles of their feet. We push back, get ourselves back up and running again, and seek to learn more. Always. Because what doesn’t kill us shouldn’t only make us stronger, it should make us smarter so that the same old shit doesn’t keep happening again.
And while rejections are important for growth, victories are still better. And that’s what I want. Victory.
What’s your experience with rejection or criticism? Would love to hear your thoughts!
Featured Image credit: by Park Pyeongjun via totorrl0107