Last year, March 2nd 2013, I wrote a satirical post on how to handle a rejection email. It was meant to be all fun and games, but recently I’ve seen some situations where fellow writers have been faced with some type of literary rejection, and have reacted strongly – some of them actually deciding that their writing is crap and they should give up.
I feel like a bit of a hypocrite when I berate them for their reaction, and say the statements that all writers hear when they’ve been rejected:
“It’s just one person’s opinion at one point of time.”
“It’s their loss.”
“Remember the manuscript for Harry Potter was rejected a dozen times.”
“Keep trying, and don’t give up.”
Statements, that in the moment, really don’t f**king matter and fall on deaf ears.
Because, rejection HURTS.
It hurts, dammit, that you’ve worked so hard, and put some of yourself into a piece of work, and someone just tells you it really isn’t good enough for them right now.
So you’re allowed to feel hurt, and rant, and rave, maybe cry a bit and drink some alcohol, but give yourself a time limit.
Grieve for an hour, and then move on.
Acknowledge the hurt, but don’t let it consume you.
Unfortunately, that feeling of disappointment never goes away, but over the years I’ve learnt how to deal with the pain, and move on quickly – sometimes to the point where I barely acknowledge a rejection – because those statements above, really REALLY are true. But I had to experience them myself, before I actually started to believe them.
The Last Crustacean – Lesson in Rejection one
It was one of the most exciting times of the year for a Caribbean writer – the time to submit to the Commonwealth Short Story competition. I wrote The Last Crustacean in March 2010, a story of about 900 words (word limit for the competition at that time), and submitted it. I thought it was fun – a story showing the adverse effects of the development of beaches, told from the perspective of a crab.
Well I didn’t win.
Therefore, my story was crap.
And so I put it in the archives (I never delete anything), with the intention of never showing it to another human being again.
Fast forward two years later, and the Caribbean Writer sent out a call for submissions for “works that celebrate as well as explore our relationship to nature, how tourism impacts our environment, the role nature plays in our lives, and the rich flora and fauna”.
I bookmarked the call, planning to write a new story to submit. The Caribbean Writer is a tough one to get into! I had been submitting stories for years, and never had work accepted.
Fast forward through weeks of forgetfulness and procrastination, and I finally got around to the story I was supposed to write the day before the deadline for submission. No magic was happening that night, and so in a panic, I remembered old Mr Crab in the dungeon. I decided to “just submit something”, with zero expectations.
Imagine my surprise when I got my acceptance email a few months later. I thought it was a joke.
I was so convinced that the story was crap, that even as I held the printed copy of the journal in my hand, I still had the unnerving feeling that they made a mistake.
We Always Smile for Photos – Lesson in Rejection two
In January 2010, after an intelligent, well-respected Barbadian woman commented that “words could never make a woman commit suicide”, I decided to write a story showing the effects of emotional abuse. It centred on a simple telephone conversation between two women – all dialogue, and incorporating an unorthodox technique of using blank spaces as part of the story. It is pretty weird, and a lot of people probably don’t even realize it, but…I do 🙂
Anyway I really liked it, but…no one else seemed to.
It got rejected and ignored multiple times for over two years, from several journals, regionally and internationally. I looked at the story to see how I could change it, but I would read it and just like it, and try again. Eventually I decided that maybe it was just not suitable for the written word, and should be a play or something.
A year ago, I saw a call for stories from a Bahamian journal, WomanSpeak, on the day of the deadline! I had written no new fiction for the year, and so I just sent my now abused short story.
It was the fastest acceptance into a journal I ever had. I submitted the story at 9:30pm Friday, and the editor accepted it at 9:22am Saturday morning. It was a bit surreal after years of rejection.
Unbelievably, six days later, the editor of an anthology of stories called She Sex, which I had submitted to years before, emailed to tell me that the story was also accepted for publication.
I couldn’t believe it. Here was a story that had been rejected for years, and was suddenly going to be published in two places.
I take great pleasure in seeing that story in print, in both books, because it is a physical, tangible reminder to not give up when you really believe in something.
Sometimes, that rejection allows you to examine your work to see if it needs editing; maybe the characters need to be developed a little more, maybe the editor gave you some feedback that you can utilise, maybe the piece just isn’t ready to be published.
But, taste is relative. Do not take rejection personally!
And please, don’t stop writing.
That’s you rejecting yourself, and nothing could be worse than that.