“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.”
― Sylvia Plath
Rejection has been on my mind a lot lately. First there was this article by Kim Liao where she suggests that new writers aim for 100 rejections a year. There were the podcasts by Mur Lafferty wherein she talks about rejection as an inevitable, even desirable, part of being a working writer. As Calvin’s dad would probably say about rejection: “It builds character.”
I’ve been writing short stories and novels with the eventual intention of seeing them published for a few years now, and in all that time I’d only seriously focused on getting accepted as a measure of success. I was submitting infrequently and timidly, and the sting of a rejection letter was enough to scare me out of trying again for months. I was still writing, but nobody else was reading it, and eventually I retracted into my shell so far that I stopped submitting entirely. Even though I knew that rejections were part of the process, I hadn’t considered that they are progress in and of themselves.
A caveat. I have a pretty fervent anxiety disorder that likes to thrash me around with fair regularity. My inner voice loves to tell me—usually loudly and repeatedly—all of the ways that I’m a failure and that my work is garbage, but here’s the thing: I’m tired of listening to that voice.
Now, it’s not like I can turn my anxiety off, but what I’ve decided is that I’m going to just do shit anyways. I’m going to submit stories no matter how much it terrifies me. I’m going to collect those rejection letters as proof that I am a working writer. As the wise woman Carrie Fisher once said, “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident.”
Rejection might hurt, but maybe it’s a good hurt. It’s taken me a few years to finally get comfortable with the idea, but it’s been a valuable lesson: you can’t succeed by not trying, and getting rejected means having tried.
So here’s to rejection, and here’s to Calvin’s Dad telling us not to give up.