Embracing Rejection

We’re such romantics over here at the Deb Ball that we thought “Valentine’s Day” and our mind immediately went to “rejection.” That’s the life of a debut novelist.

One of Jennifer S. Brown's rejection slips for a short story
An actual rejection notice I received

Look, we experience rejection our entire lives. Not a person alive hasn’t been rejected in some way. For example, in 4th grade, I had to wear a headgear. Twenty-four hours a day. And to make it easy to use, my mother took me to have all my hair chopped off:
My life in a headgear
Do you know what happened the first day of school? John Hudson, the cutest boy in the 4th grade, came up to me and said, “You look like a horse!” and those were the last words he ever spoke to me.

In junior high, it was being devastated when my crush skated the couples skate with another girl:
Rejected at Couple's Skate

I’ve been rejected from colleges, from graduate schools, from jobs, from fellowships, from boys, from workshops, from agents. And I’m not alone. Everyone is rejected by something at some point, probably many times.

When I began my MFA program, one of my professors had on his wall a giant shadow box filled with rejection notices (back in the day when rejection notices were something you received on paper in the mail).

“Wow,” I asked him. “Are all of those your rejection notices?”

He laughed. “No, no, no,” he said. “That is a mere sampling of all my rejection notices. Most of my notices won’t fit in that frame, so the rest are in folders in my filing cabinets.”

Few things are as reassuring to a student as knowing that even the ones who publish and win awards (which he had done) are rejected.

This is but the tip of the iceberg of my own rejection letters. Obviously they now mostly live in the folder in my e-mail in-box, but I was submitting in the days of SASEs:
A pile of rejection slips

If you want to be a writer (or really, if you want to live), you have to accept that you will be rejected at some point. And honestly, while there are lots of things you can do to ease that pain, the bottom line is you need to suck it up and move on. Rejection hurts, whether it’s a guy/girl saying s/he doesn’t love you or your dream agent saying, “I’m passing on your project.” You need to dust yourself off and move on. I admire writers who try to collect rejection notices: “I’m going to submit so many times this year, I’m going for 100 rejection notices.” One writer, Brett Elizabeth Jenkins, documents it in her post “One Year, One Hundred Rejections” and in this follow-up. She earned her 100 rejections, but also garnered some acceptances on the way.

Sure you can avoid rejection. It’s easy. Just don’t put yourself out there. If you don’t try, you won’t be rejected. But what a crappy way to live. So embrace rejection. Brush yourself up, suck it up, and try again. And when the acceptance does come in, it’ll be all the sweeter for the rejections.

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Jennifer S. Brown is the author of MODERN GIRLS (NAL/Penguin). The novel, set in 1935 in the Lower East Side of New York, is about a Russian-born Jewish mother and her American-born unmarried daughter. Each discovers that she is expecting, although the pregnancies are unplanned and unwanted, in this story about women’s roles, standards, and choices, set against the backdrop of the impending war. Learn more at www.jennifersbrown.com.

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This article has 3 Comments

  1. I agree with Abby…you rock the headgear! I have written a few blogs myself about rejection. You are right – it isn’t easy to take. To brush it off isn’t realistic. They key is to get up and move on. To grow thick skin would only ruin who you are..change you. Rejection shouldn’t change you, it should build you up for more of what is to come. More rejection, of course. But more opportunity. Rejections are just stepping stones across the river. They help guide you to the other side of where you are going!

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