It took a while to muster up the courage to ask someone to read one of my stories. Somewhere in between my undergraduate Creative Writing classes and a year ago, I’d lost…something. Maybe I feared whatever storytelling skills I’d developed had rusted up during all those years of academic writing. Maybe it felt too personal. Maybe I was just chicken.
I’m lucky that my husband was willing to help me, and was as supportive as always. After I let him read, it didn’t seem as scary to share it with other writers. It’s better when you start to trust your readers and know that it’s likely they’re feeling the same kind of misgivings and hope.
From there I felt more confident and I shared some work in online classes. Feedback from fellow classmates is really valuable and I got a lot out of it. It also let me get used to letting strangers read my work…but in safety. We were all in it together.
But…eventually I had to decide whether I wanted to go for it and pursue publication. I loved the idea of more people reading my stories. The fantasy that there would be more positive than negative reactions to those stories is a nice one. And—getting paid for something I’ve written? That’s an awesome dream.
The only drawback I could see was the possibility of rejection.
It was the inevitability of rejection.
I had to figure out whether or not I could take it. I didn’t really know, but I finally ripped off the bandage and submitted something.
I’m not going to lie.
Rejection sucks. It hurts. You can tell me it isn’t personal all day long and that little twinge or that big pinch, or that full-on punch in the gut still hits really hard—at first, anyway.
When I get a bit of distance I can see it. Stories don’t get rejected because an editor or an agent doesn’t like you---your core self, anyway. They don’t see that part. There are all sorts of reasons a story gets rejected. It would be nice to know why…if it is something you can fix, but the reality is that there isn’t time for that. My rational side (however small it is) gets that and my emotional side can at least empathize with the workload. I imagine that it doesn’t often (or always—or ever) feel good to have to send out those rejections.
The disappointment is tough to deal with, but I think it’s the doubt that can take a real toll. At that point, I turn to all the encouraging words on the subject that established writers and editors share with such generosity. It helps. I like a good pep talk and a reality check. Encouragement is always welcome.
Like many people, I struggle with uncertainty. I find it a particularly vexing state because I read and grade writing all the time. It’s a different kind of writing, to be sure, and it’s a different setting—I get that. I think that what bothers me is that in one area I feel competent and sure. In the other, I sometimes feel that I am not accurately assessing the quality of my writing. It’s not a comfortable feeling.
Again, in my more rational moments I can see the hamster wheel for what it is.
But when I’m looking at that sad email and combing over my story, that’s difficult.
The key is to move on. I've found that it gets easier over time. I don’t have a prescription for this. I can only tell you my own experience. I hope that my little story here may offer some moment of connection, even comfort, for someone. I figure that in the end, everyone has to find something that works for them.
My Strategy for Coping:
My husband gives awesome post-rejection hugs. I’m not sharing those.
Ice cream sometimes works in the short term. So does a tasty beverage. But sometimes both of those things can come with little shame spirals of their own, and are best taken only in small doses every once in a while.
What has worked for me the most is silly, but effective. I try to make the damned things festive. I have a REJECTIONS folder. It is ridiculously sparkly and bright. I got fake bejeweled stickers for its title. I find some comfort in their tacky glory.
Every rejection I get is printed out and put in the folder. Every rejection gets a new sticker. I have a growing collection of them.
I like the childishness of it all. I like the absurdity of commemorating the rejection of a story (especially the horror stories) with a sticker. And I embrace the cute. I feel like I get something good out of it. It’s a ceremony. Once that new sticker is on my folder I can move on. I rework the rejected story, research markets, and resubmit.
Then I write another story.
I try to laugh. Sure, sometimes a rejection hits harder and I’m more bummed, but that’s how it goes. As long as I keep trying I figure I’m winning in some way.
So what can I say? If you’re reading this, if you’re writing, and if you are submitting…you aren’t alone.
Pep talk time:
Keep at it.
Thanks for reading.
UPDATE: Within five minutes or so after I published this post I got an email. It was a rejection. I laughed. Awesome timing. I printed the message, stuck it in the folder, and selected a shiny red heart sticker. Good times.
This morning I plan to read the story, work on it, find a new place to send it and hope for the best.