The Toughest Rejection Letter
Writing is a tough, tough gig. Read any author's thoughts on it and you'll find thousands of words cursing the craft and lamenting the loss of hair and sleep needed to succeed as a wordsmith (I've embraced the comb-over, but not yet coffee.)
It's a profession that is built on failure. Ask any author and I am sure they can show you a pile of rejection letters from editors and agents telling them no. And try as we may and no matter how many times we are told not to, we take each one personal. It's hard not to hear the word no and not think it says not good enough.
It is that exact mindset that makes us write the toughest rejection letter to ourselves time and time again. The one that says 'you'll never be' and asks 'who are you kidding?' The one that we can never shred or burn or feed to the dogs. The one that always stays with us.
I have been at this for over 12 years now and have received approximately 85 rejection letters for numerous short story submissions and agent queries. A measly 85 rejections. That number is paltry compared to some of the other authors out there, but why?
Because I have rejected myself a thousand times more.
I think back on the nights that I spent moseying around the internet, knowing I had a blank page open in the next window, trying to avoid putting a word down for fear of how bad it would be. I remember those days where I would reread pages upon pages of my stuff and wonder how could such garbage ever be received by an audience. I can recall the courage I had to muster to submit my first novel to one of the big publishers, and how much hope I sent along with it, only to have a form rejection letter come back in my mail and shut down my writing for a month. There are countless other examples where I shut myself down, too infatuated with my own failure. Too certain that I did not have the talent or gumption to make it. I rejected myself and my work on a daily basis, much more harshly than any editor. There were times when I would ask myself, "Did I really need to put myself through this hell?"
Yet every time I asked myself that question, the answer was always yes. To my surprise, it was always yes. So I would eventually climb back into the seat and try again and again, until another bout of self-doubt would creep in and I would ask myself the same question.
And the answer would again be yes.
I toiled for years like this in a frustrating cycle of telling myself 'you suck,' but like a beaten dog, still climbing back onto the keyboard ready to receive another slap. But eventually the letters I received back started to become more positive and the critiques became more encouraging than discouraging. And eventually I could stop rejecting myself outright without calling myself a fool. Until at last, 11 years later, I received my first acceptance letter.
Since then, that indestructible rejection letter is still there, but now it stays hidden, buried beneath kind words, the support of my family, the encouragement of other authors, and the confidence-booster of the occasional acceptance. I still glance at it. What author doesn't? But at least I know where to put it to keep it out of my way, especially as I am embark on this whole self-publishing thing.
Not so long ago I would often wonder how much work I squandered by giving into my self-doubt. I would often wonder how much further along I could be in my career if I had just known how to push myself out of the way and instead, push forward. But what good does wondering do anymore? Like rejection, like doubt, it's useless in putting words to the paper.
So I push that aside (except for this blog post, of course. It's therapeutic to share sometimes.)
Now it seems the only parts I like to dwell on anymore are those times when I would ask myself if this is what I really wanted to do with my life and why my answer was always yes.
I think it's because the other option of not writing and creating terrified me more than my own self-doubt. Perhaps the same part of me that drafted my own rejection letter also crafted the one that told me I couldn't do anything else?
So is the way of the brain.
I speak as though I have made it, and that is definitely not the case. My writing career is far from where I want it to be, but at last I feel like I know how to take it there and the first step is keeping the toughest rejection letter I've ever received hidden and out of sight.