What sucks even more is that, for a writer, rejection is not only a possibility, but a certainty. Rejections can drain your confidence as a writer, your motivation, and your belief. But that’s not all they can do.
Rejections can make you stronger.
Growing up, I was taught that failure was unacceptable. Any failure was seen as a reason to quit whatever I was doing. If I wasn’t good at a thing, why bother doing it? This attitude stuck with me throughout high school, where I was an over-achieving perfectionist and even snuck into other aspects of my life, such as my physical fitness, where I thought any set-back was a testament to my lack of worthiness.
With this all-or-nothing attitude, it’s no surprise that my first attempts at writing stories were devastating. I stuck to the most basic archetypes and never allowed myself to really enjoy writing outside of fanfiction. After my first failed attempt at writing a novel, my grandmother informed me that I’d never have a successful career. After my second, she told me that I just wanted to be ‘one of those welfare writers.’
When I first got a rejection letter, back at the beginning of last year, I was really hurt. I read and re-read them until I could quote each rejection by heart. It was an odd feeling. On the one hand, I felt accomplished that I had actually submitted something. On the other, I felt crushed by the fact that my worth as a writer was so easily dismissed.
However, now that I have some more rejections under my belt and healthier ideas about self-worth and the importance of failure, I’d like to share what I’ve learned.
Rejection makes you look critically at your work.
I send my stories out to about five or ten publications before shelving them. This is a low amount, don’t get me wrong. If my top choices don’t pick my story, then I assume that it’s my inexperience as a writer rather than their taste that’s in the wrong. After a few months (or if I run out of things to submit) I look these stories over again and try to spot the differences and similarities between my work then and my work now.
Reviewing one of my old stories, “A Great Deal,” and comparing it to a new story of mine, “The First,” was particularly enlightening. I saw how I’d strengthened my narrative flow and used stronger language. I saw how strong my editing had become and realized that there were a lot of weaknesses in the old story. In the old one, my protagonists didn’t struggle. They didn’t want anything.
Guess what I’m working on now? That’s right. Character motivation! By putting yourself in the editor’s shoes, you can find and address weakness in your writing.
Rejection gives you invaluable experience.
When I was first sending out manuscripts, I thought that I had then formatted to a ‘T’. I did everything I could think of and was proud when I sent out those stories. Looking at them now, I can see how childish those stories looked. I wasn’t sure how to format things in my program and it showed.
Determined not to make the same mistakes, I studied formatting and now can set up a manuscript like a pro. As a matter of fact, several of my stories are now put into standard submission format as soon as the rough draft is complete to make editing easier.
Submitting makes you invest in your work, even when it’s rejected.
I rarely write something without a specific goal in mind now. While there’s some things that are ‘just for fun,’ like drabbles, I don’t have the amount of them that I used to. Whether it’s character motivation, two different storylines, or description, I’m investing time and thought into my work to make it better. Much in the same way that musicians practice scales or artists do focus sketches, I’m singling out each story for a purpose while trying to incorporate other lessons I’ve learned into each work. As a result, my work has grown in leaps and bounds.
Submitting can also make you invest in other ways. For one thing, it made me finally spend money on my writing, dragging me from ‘hobby writer’ to ‘I-want-to-do-this-for-a-living writer’. The most recent purchase? I discovered that my free writing software was killing my formatting when converting to .rtf files so I bought Microsoft Office, which I love.
You realize it isn’t about publication.
Let’s face it, the idea of being a writer is a very romantic and whimsical daydream for most people. They imagine having millions of dollars and speaking the words of the next New York Times Best Seller into a tape recorder where it’s then typed and presented to adoring fans.
That’s not reality.
Yet, a lot of new writers kind of think it is. That’s why so many people give up after a year or two. Even the ones that do make it to publication often drop out of the race after a book or two.
My first few stories that I sent out were sad, little things. They were what I thought would get published rather than what I wanted to write. But, as the rejections kept rolling in, I realized something very important, vital, even—
You shouldn’t write for publication. You should write for yourself.
There’s a reason that I’ve written– *checks folder* — four stories this month while I only wrote two within two months when I first started. I care about the stories that I write now. They’re stories that I want to read and that I think are cool. If they don’t get published, I’m cool with that, because I still genuinely like them and don’t see them as a wasted effort.
Do I fail? Yup. All the time. I try new ideas and sometimes they don’t pan out. Last week, I abandoned a story that was 1,000 words in because it just wasn’t working the way I wanted. Another 4,000-word story needs to be completely re-written before it turns into something similar to what I’m trying to write.
Writing is hard, but rejection teaches exceedingly important lessons to writers, both new and old. Submitting your work provides a challenge to your skills and lifts the veil so that you can see past the daydream, and into the sometimes gritty world of a professional writer. Most of all, submitting your work, even if it gets rejected, is a way of showing yourself that your words have meaning and that you want to share that with others.