As someone who’s been writing for 14 years, I know very well that rejections are part of the life of a writer. It doesn’t mean that I take them lightly but I’ve come to realize that they’re the much-dreaded yet much-needed ingredients for me to become a better writer.
When I completed my first novel in 2005, it took me nine months, after 30 plus rejections from agents, to find someone to represent me. I was luckier with my first short story, which Granta accepted on first submission. Two years later, I “almost” had a story published by The New Yorker. I had dreamed big so I was quite disappointed when my agent told me that it was a “no” at the end. However, I received an encouraging email from Deborah Treisman herself, which I still have in my yahoo mailbox.
I’ve since had more success with my short stories, but I have received even more rejections. Once I sent a story to The Paris Review, only to receive, 14 months later, a hand-written note, “We liked it but please send a shorter one.” I sent a shorter story but got no reply this time. Did the story end up in a slush pile? To this day, I still wonder.
Last week, I received a rejection letter from One Story. It says, “Thank you so much for sending us ‘The Night is Younger Than We Are.’ There was a lot to admire in this piece. The characters, especially the narrator and Ling, were rich and fully formed, and your decision to switch between the past and the present lent a tension to the story that kept us turning the pages. This particular piece isn’t quite right for One Story, but we sincerely hope that you will send us more of your writing in the future.”
Given that reputable journals like One Story receive hundreds of submissions a day and have extremely low acceptance rate, I’m deeply grateful for such a thoughtful and encouraging personal note.
What to do after being rejected? There’s only one answer if writing is who you are. Continue to write, to edit, and continue to submit.
Leonard Cohen, one of my favorite songwriters who just passed away, once described his writing process as something “like a bear stumbling into a beehive or a honey cache: I’m stumbling right into it and getting stuck, and it’s delicious and it’s horrible and I’m in it and it’s not very graceful and it’s very awkward and it’s very painful and yet there’s something inevitable about it.”
Yes, there’s something inevitable about it. You must have faith.
And remember what Churchill once said, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”