The Only Guarantee in Writing Is Rejection

ID-10027740I started my writing career batting a thousand. The first story I ever submitted won a local writing contest. $500!!! It was the most money I ever earned from a short story. The second short story I ever submitted came in second place in a writing contest for a national magazine. $300!!! I was on fire! I scoffed at all these rumors of rejection. “Bah!” I said to the writing gods. “I got this.”

And that, my friends, was when the writing gods looked down on me and laughed their godly asses off.

At the time, it was still a world that dealt in paper. And we’re talking about five years ago, not decades. Living in the tech center of the world, this was hard for me to get my brain around. I bought boxes of mailers and envelops. The mailers were for the printed short stories. The envelops were for the self-addressed stamped envelops for the rejections. Every time I’d see one of my own envelops sent back to me in my mailbox, I’d sigh.

“Why are you being so negative?” my boyfriend at the time asked me. “It might not be a rejection.”

“They email you an acceptance,” I said. “Envelopes are for rejections.”

When I was submitting short stories, there was a hierarchy for rejections I got in the mail. If they didn’t like it all, I got this tiny slip of a paper with a pre-printed message saying basically “It’s not you. It’s us.” But I knew it was me. If they liked the story but it just didn’t make the cut, you got *gasp* a handwritten note! The note usually said something like, “We liked this very much and many of us on the editorial committee are disappointed not to see it in our journal. We hope to see more work from you in the future.” I lived for these notes. Seriously. This, my friends, was hope.

Even journals so progressive as to adopt email submissions only had the advantage of rejecting me faster while saving me money on postage. Once I had an editor reject a short story two minutes after I sent it to her. I’d stayed up late and painstakingly followed the journal’s odd instructions for submissions. Then I clicked Send. And two minutes later, the rejection showed up in my Inbox. I know what you’re thinking. They must have just had an auto-response set, right? I thought the same thing until I noticed that she mentioned something in the first paragraph that showed she had at least read that far. So it wasn’t really my story she didn’t like, just my first paragraph. Unfortunately, that was enough.

If rejection bothers you, writing is not for you. Editors will reject you. Agents will reject you. Writing programs/conferences/workshops will reject you. Sometimes, even you will reject you. And it doesn’t even matter how good you are. The great writers of literature all have long lists of rejections to their credits. The only guarantee in writing is rejection.

But here’s the thing. It just takes one “yes.” That’s what a friend of mine who is in sales told me a long time ago. It just takes one “yes.” Each “no” is just one step closer to a “yes.” It’s true for sales. It’s true for writing. Writing is the only game in the world where you’re a winner with only one win. Forget batting a thousand. You can bat just .001 and still be a winner in the game of writing. It only takes one agent who says “yes.” Then it only takes one editor who says “yes.” And then they will help you find all those amazing readers out there who will also say “yes.”

Now my novel is out in the world along with a bunch of my short stories, all standing tall on the stepping stones of “no” that came before. Take that writing gods.

Image courtesy of tungphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Shelly is the author of THE MOMENT OF EVERYTHING, story of love and books in Silicon Valley. She lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains with her husband, two big dogs, and a disapproving cat.

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