You snap the mail box door closed and push up the red flag. There goes your baby. All those words you painstakingly wrote, rewrote, and revised are officially off to be judged by a complete stranger. As you turn away, you feel relief and anguish. Did you put on enough stamps? Did you fill out the address exactly right? What if they hate it and they talk about how awful it is over their morning coffee? What if they love it and you finally get that letter validating your hours, weeks, and years of hard work? What if you never hear anything at all? Days pass, then weeks, then a month. Finally, there it is waiting in your mailbox. A letter. THE letter. The one you have been waiting for. You tear it open. “Dear you, thank you for sending your story to us, however … blah blah blah.”
All authors experience rejection. The greatest and most prolific authors have all had stacks of rejections letters taunting them with their form words and empty reassurances to try again. Issac Asimov, who some call the father of science fiction, had this to say: “Rejections slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil – but there is no way around them.” He went on to write or edit 500 books. Stephen King wrote, “By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.” Later, he would send the same rejected work back to the same publisher who would jump at the chance to publish his work. J.K. Rowling has even submitted works for publication under a pseudonym and had them rejected. One publisher even told her to take a writing class. A writing class? For the woman who gave us Harry Potter? Really?!
So you see, rejection is as much a part of the writing process as the writing itself. Rejection hones your skills, motivates you and even inspires you. Each rejection gives you the chance to stop writing or continue. You can allow a one page form letter to derail your dreams or you can use it to fuel the next story and the next submission. Someone sitting at a desk with a stack of manuscripts or stories in front of them decided that your work wasn’t right for their publication. They sent out hundreds or thousands of those letters to authors just like you. Somewhere, another author is opening their mailbox and reading the exact words that you just read. Tomorrow, they may delete their work in progress and decide that this writing thing just isn’t for them. Make sure that author isn’t you. As Chuck Wendig said, “Rejection refines us. Those who fall prey to its enervating soul-sucking tentacles are doomed. Those who persist past it are survivors. Best ask yourself the question: what kind of writer are you? The kind who survives? Or the kind who gets asphyxiated by the tentacles of woe?”
Use the rejections as a chance to edit your work and to learn from what worked or didn’t work. Move the dialogue around, delete a scene that wasn’t working or maybe add in a plane crash. You can set aside that work and begin again on another day with another work in progress. One day, after you’ve published a few stories, you might happen across that old document, change a few things, and submit it anew only to realize that suddenly it does find a home.
So what should you do with that rejection letter? Keep it for posterity? Burn it in revenge? Post it proudly as proof that you put yourself out there and allowed a piece of your soul to be vulnerable? That’s really up to you. All of these are valid options to the soul-crushing rejection letter. Whichever you choose, remember that it was just a piece of paper. Don’t allow yourself to permit a sheet of paper to have power over you. You control your destiny. A piece of paper can’t stand up to that, right? After all, you invented a whole world and populated it with characters. You made those characters dance on puppet strings while you dictated what they said and how they lived their lives. A little piece of paper can hardly compare to that.