Writing Discussion: On Rejection

Anyone can write a single story. But to be a truly established writer, one needs a combination of several things: dedication and desire to write; a constantly evolving list of books to read; a support system; and resilience. It can take years to cultivate these aspects of the Writer (in a general sense), and unestablished writers might balk at the thought of showing their work to others and submitting it for review. Unfortunately, rejection is a key piece to the Writer’s identity. I’m here to explain it to you and why it’s helpful—even necessary—in your endeavor to become a Writer.

Think of your favorite book for a moment. Remember everything you love about it: maybe you identify with the characters, or the dialogue reads smoothly, or perhaps there was a great plot twist you never saw coming. Think of a few different books, if you like. Heck, think of a bookshelf with every single book you’ve ever read. Got it? Here’s something you might not have known about those hundreds (or thousands!) of books. They were all rejected. The author of your favorite book has received rejection letters, plural. JK Rowling, Ursula Le Guin, Patrick Rothfuss, Meg Cabot, the author of the book on your nightstand ALL know what it feels like to read a rejection letter. I’d bet they all received scores of letters early in their careers, and probably receive them to this day.

Rejection may not feel useful. It certainly doesn’t feel good. But it’s essential for the Writer. Many of my classmates were hesitant to read their work in class and to share it with the group. They were embarrassed, maybe afraid to acknowledge their writing as their own, and probably more than a little scared at the feedback they would receive. Even when the feedback was harsh, though, it was all delivered with the intent on making the piece better. And after drafting the piece again, the authors were often happier with it than they were before—and the story was better.

That’s what rejection can do for you. Feedback is essentially a form of rejection: it’s someone saying, “Your writing isn’t good enough yet—but here’s what you can do to make it better.” When you submit your writing to literary reviews and contests, you might receive a stock rejection letter. But some very special organizations deliver personalized feedback with the rejection, especially if your piece came close to being accepted.

The easiest way to get used to rejection is to experience it. Over. And over. And over again. In doing so, you’ll gain resilience while also getting a feel for the industry, how you can alter your writing to make it better or “more publishable.” Of course, just writing won’t guarantee publication. You must also be able to receive the feedback and adjust your writing accordingly—or, after you’ve developed a style or know your method of writing better, you can choose to ignore the out-of-place feedback. The bottom line is this: the Writer produces content and edits content and submits content and is rejected, repeatedly. Rejection is simply a hurdle (more likely, several small hurdles) for you to overcome. And if you do, you’ll be in good company.

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