Since January of this year I’ve received seventeen rejection notices from various literary journals. While this is in no way out of the ordinary for any writer, emotions can cloud the realities of the literary landscape if they are allowed to do anything more than aid future writing. I can certainly say rejection comes with the proverbial territory, but in doing so I’m holding back discussing the normal, visceral emotions that bubble to the surface. Disappointment, anger, doubt, and sadness (to name a few) take over my mind. No matter how quickly I get over those feelings they reemerge with every “This story doesn’t fit our needs at the moment.”
I’ve read dozens of blogs, heard thousands of words of advice on this subject. Frankly, everyone writing those posts, or stringing those sentences together tends to gloss over those emotions. They’re not wrong in doing so, but completely pushing away the very emotions that give writers the ability to write stories worth publishing can go against the very foundation of the craft.
Now, let me be clear, I am not condoning the infusion of sappy, boring emotionality into fiction. That breeds bad writing. My point is that rejection and despair are essential to finding a reason to continue writing.
Rejection is a harsh word. It’s downright brutal. Its very definition implies a casting out of sorts. It hurts.
There is an excellent aspect to rejection, however, that can be overlooked. If your fiction is objectively sound, if it’s technically pristine, if it’s revised to near perfection, the staff of a literary journal just might not like it. Subjectivity, as random and biased as it is, is essential to publishing. As such, no matter how good your work is, somebody somewhere isn’t going to like it, and there are plenty of those folks serving on mastheads of lit journals. Despite subjectivity occasionally being mistaken as a valid criticism, it does hold value to the Rejected in this case. If you’ve taken the necessary steps to make your work good, it’s not your talent getting the rejection, it’s a slanted decision based on personal taste that offers little insight into what you are capable of as a writer.
Not a bad rationale to adopt.
Regardless of rationality, however, when you’re rejected, your emotions take over for a moment—or longer if you’re expecting a constant influx of publications (By the way, if that is your expectation, 1.) Cease and desist wearing your ass as a hat and get real, or 2.) Stop writing.) These emotions are strong, intense, and destructive if not focused in a useful way. They are not to be ignored either. The intrinsic despair that accompanies rejection is raw human emotion. It’s the stuff of good writing. Fodder, fuel, however you’d like to brand it, the momentary rush of emotion can do several things: Strengthen your writerly need to write more, better; inform future work that has yet to boil up and froth out of your prefrontal cortex; or, at the very least, get you pissed off enough to submit your work to five journals per every one rejection.
The crushing reality every writer has to face is that no one cares if you’re a writer or not. It’s easy not to be a writer. A writer’s life is stuffed with disappointment and fraught with self-doubt. It’s time consuming, stressful, and terribly difficult. (By the way, if you think writing is easy, please choose one of the two abovementioned options.)
So why continue?
The act of writing is justifiable in and of itself. It’s the spontaneous creation of something that never existed before. Something that could never exist in exactly the same form if it hadn’t come directly from any one writer’s brain. There’s validity in that alone.
In a vacuum that sentiment works just fine.
But it has to be tempered with a dose of reality.
The truth is writers write so readers will read. It’s difficult to continue writing when it seems no one wants to read your work. Or when the process becomes burden. Or when the period between modest successes creates a sense of perceived failure. As such I suggest striking a balance between clichéd sentiment and ambition. Write for the sake of writing, but submit your work as if publication credits are currency. Create because it’s an inherent human desire, but make certain to improve with every new piece. Stay silent and humble about your writing, but let your ego grip you tight and go goddamn write.
I’ve received seventeen rejections in six months.
I’ve got more coming to me.
My next publication credit may never happen.
Whatever. I’m a writer.