Sunday, May 01, 2005

Rejection is a drag

I thought I already wrote about this and even if I did, you can never say too much about rejection, because rejection is a way of life for a writer. It's something to be gotten used to because if you don't, you become paralyzed, never sending your work out, never entering contests that intrigue you or never going for writing jobs you desire.

I hate rejection. Everyone hates rejection.

Many of you know that Pen on Fire went through a couple of agents and a couple dozen rejections before I revised, revised, revised and found my current agent who then proceeded to sell my book. The magazine, Personal Writing, published by publisher that puts out Writer's Digest, just published my essay called "Lessons Learned," which recounts my book's path to publication.

I almost tossed my manuscript and gave up forever when I thought I'd give it one more try. That one more try was the clincher.

I've collected hundreds of rejection letters from magazines, literary journals, agents and publishers. I've tossed most of them out except for a few very detailed letters from the New Yorker in which they actually told me why they were rejecting my stories and to submit again.

Having a book published doesn't make you immune to the terror of rejection. I almost didn't submit my book for consideration in the American Society of Journalists and Authors annual contest, but I was able to talk myself into it. What if I lose? I thought. This time I got lucky and won. Doesn't mean I'll be so lucky next time. See? The fear of rejection doesn't go away and it doesn't grow smaller.

You just keep on keeping on, because what else is there to do? Fold in upon yourself and dissolve? No can do.

I have a chapter in Pen on Fire about rejection, and I'm doing a talk at the Willamette Writers Conference this August on dealing with rejection. Our fear of it stretches back to childhood, to when we were rejected for something else, something unrelated to writing.

You can deal with rejection a lot of different ways. Burn those rejection letters. Or wad them up and throw them away. Or write a charming note to the editor or agent who rejected you (so says Carolyn See).

But I think the best way of dealing with rejection is to write your way through it. In my book, actually in the chapter on fear, I excerpted a few sentences from Dune, by Frank Herbert:

Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Those few lines have gotten me through, many a time.

Take heart and don't let rejection stop you. Learn from it. Learn to decipher what the rejection letters are really saying. And move on, allow yourself to progress and eventually you will be victorious.


Mary said...

Thank you, Barbara. I needed this article. On Friday, I received a friendly rejection e-mail from an agent I had hoped would represent me. After spending the weekend watching TiVoed Oprah episodes and eating Ben and Jerry's, I am slowly coming out of the fog and realizing I need to just keep submitting. There's a big WD contest coming up, and I plan to enter two chapters from my rejected book. Like Oprah said on a recent episode, "You don't get what you want; you get what you believe." I want to be published, but what's more important: I believe my work is worthy of publication.
Now if only I could believe in a size 8...

Anonymous said...

This was a great Blog, Barbara. I loved to see the Herbert quote, that is a great Mantra for any creative endeavor or for just getting through the normal 9 to 5 `stuff' that life throws our way. Your writing remains as inspiring as ever.

Donald P.

Timmy said...

I submitted a short story for publication not long ago, and it got rejected.

Thanks to previously written stuff on the topic (including some of yours), I managed to look at the rejection squarely and said...

"I've been rejected! I'm a real writer!"

Amanda Val Ng said...

The worst kind of death is when Hope is found dead inside of an alive man. In this world, we dont need the truth, what we need is hope.

Amanda Earl said...

Gayle Brandeis, in her wonderful book, Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration For Women Who Write, quotes a great rejection letter from Two Girls Review in Portland, Oregon:


editorial choices are fucking
arbitrary. you know it. we know it.
that's why you should not take this
no as anything but some jerk-off's
idea about what fit and what didn't
fit this go round. our decisions are no reflection on the merit of your work--they are as full of shit as our own colossal egos. these are important: handds, ideas, mouths, words, images.

our advice?
be relentless

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love what Gayle Brandeis wrote, because it's so true. These decisions can be very arbitrary and subjective. One person's LeCarre is another one's Sparks. No offense to Mr. Sparks, but he is not a memorable author.

As a people-pleaser, I had a tough time accepting that not everybody will enjoy what I write. If you believe in your book or work, however, then it WILL be published someday. Writers now have more opportunities to self publish and create e-books, which can be very exciting and rewarding, even if you only sell 10 copies.

As Winston Churchill once said, "Never surrender!"

Kathrine Roid said...

Charming note:

Dear Agent,
I am currently closed to rejections, and can not consider your rejection at this time.


On a reality-check note, I wouldn't recommend you actually send those "charming notes" you write. ;)