This is a word that strikes fear and dread in the heart and mind of any artist who wants their work to be viewed and enjoyed (and, honestly, the vast majority of us do. I think it’s King who likes to remind us that writers write so the work can be read!). The mere idea of rejection can discourage more people than exist on the market as a whole. Many of us who aren’t all that scared by the idea of rejection become terrified of what might happen after we actually do receive one. Does it mean we are failures? Does it mean we will never become the master of our particular trade? Does it mean that no one will like our work and we should just go off the grid and never let our faces be seen by another living human again? NO.
Rejection can be the thing that holds aspiring artists back from attempting to get their work out on the market and, for those who do make the attempt and feel the terrible weight of the rejection, it can be the thing that kills their ambition to ever try again. But why? We can look at the wide world of art and literature and see that everything big on the market obviously has some level of following, whether we are particularly fans of it or not. For that matter, how many times have you gotten your friends or family to watch, read or listen to something that you love only to have them tell you it’s not up their alley (whether saying it that nicely or not). Why can’t it be that way with our work?
When looking at the world through our own eyes we often see that we want or like things of a certain type and we think that no one else can possibly see it a different way – until they do. So why can’t our work be a part of this same reflection. There are things we love and things we hate, but no matter how we feel about something, there are countless other people in the world who may feel the exact opposite. We may be absolutely in love with our latest piece of work and feel that there is absolutely no way anyone can feel any different about it, and when we realize they do we think that that’s it. Once we’ve received one rejection it is so easy to imagine that no one will ever like that piece (or, depending on your level of self esteem, any of your work at all), and give up on it.
This is absolutely ridiculous. If we can like something that no one else does – or more so if someone else can like something that we don’t – why do we tell ourselves that one rejection on one piece of work is doom for our whole career? Now don’t get me wrong, I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else. The first time I submitted a piece I was 17 years old and I submitted it to a very large publication that I was more excited about than I can describe. The work in question was my very first completed short story (which, despite not being my best piece by far, I was very proud of) and I waited somewhere between three and six months for a response. When I finally got it and tore it open my heart collapsed as I read my very first rejection. It was simple, some would even say cold, saying that they could not use my work in their publication. There was no personal touch, not even an actual signature, just a stamp. I was devastated. I felt like I was wasting my time with the story ideas flowing through my head – at first.
Soon the defiance that makes up a good portion of my character came back full swing and I put the feelings of humiliation behind me, as hard as it was, and kept writing. After all, being a King fan, I knew that when he was first starting out he received so many rejections that he had to put them on his wall with a railroad spike because a nail stopped holding them up. So I wrote more, jotting down my ideas in notebooks, putting them in my phone, even literally writing one or two on napkins while at work one day when I forgot to bring a notepad. But I was still wounded. I didn’t attempt another submission for around two years. I finally broke down and submitted to the Clinch Mountain Review, the literary and arts journal of the college I was attending at the time. I did this in a hurry, submitting a piece that I had written in the span of a few hours (a piece that actually weighed my mind down so much that by the time I could start writing it I was tired of it already) on the last day of the deadline.
I wasn’t thrilled that this piece was the only one I felt ready to try with, but I sucked it up and sent it out, knowing if I didn’t get back on the horse at that point, I may never do so again. Barely two months later (if memory serves) I received the notification that this piece, a piece I felt was unworthy of any recognition, had been accepted into the journal. This piece actually got published, and became my first ever publication. I wasn’t fond of the story at all when I submitted it, feeling that it wasn’t my best work by far. I still feel this way, but imagine the feeling I got when I realized if the piece that I thought may be one of my worst was good enough for publication. Elation doesn’t even cover it. I held on to that feeling with each subsequent attempt I made at publication and, until yesterday, I had only received one other rejection in my writing career.
Earlier this month I went on a bit of a submitting spree, sending pieces out to the wind and hoping to expand my audience and get more recognition, etc… Yesterday I received an email telling me that one of the pieces I felt most confident about had been rejected. The editor told me that he felt humbled to have read the work but couldn’t find a place for it in the Spring edition of the journal. It was that little twist of irony that inspired this post actually (and I’ve since been inspired to write two more for the future; one on personal rejections vs. impersonal and one on works you like vs. ones you don’t. If you’re particularly interested – or uninterested- in either of those posts let me know), because I find it moderately hilarious, if a little frustrating, that my first publication was a story I didn’t like and my first rejection of 2016 was a piece I felt pretty confident in.
One way or the other, I think the point of this post has been made to you all. Opinions are unique to each and every one of us, just as our fingerprints and thought processes are. We can be absolutely in love with something that everyone else we know despises, but that’s fine. There are over seven billion people in the world (as I so love to remind you all) and the chances of every single one of them feeling the same about ANYTHING, particularly your work is just preposterous. Of the people on this planet there are going to be some who adore your work, and there are going to be those who despise it. The goal is to find the right group and let them enjoy your piece, even if it isn’t your favorite. Don’t let the idea of rejection cripple you, and don’t ever give up just because you’ve been rejected. Whenever you feel things aren’t going to get better just remember that a dozen publishers rejected Harry Potter- or do what I do and remind yourself of King’s railroad spike and realize that, if you don’t give up one day it WILL happen for you. You’ve just got to have faith and find your audience.