Being a writer and not wanting to get rejected is like being a boxer not wanting to get punched in the face. — some approximation of a quote I can no longer find who to attribute to.
I have never been nor will I ever be a boxer, but I learned early on that rejection was an integral part of being a writer. And sometimes rejections hurt as bad as getting punched in the face (though, to be fair, that’s never happened to me either. “YET,” a friend of mine would interject here if I was speaking to her now).
Rejections are so much a part of the business of writing that nearly every successful writer has something to say about:
“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try,” said Sylvia Plath (how precious.).
Stephen King said, “By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”
“Rejections slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil — but there is no way around them,” Isaac Asimov wisely said (Now, this is a quote I can relate to.).
The fact is that every. single. writer has faced rejection in building their career. Some of us are better able to handle it initially than others, but we all have to face it. We all have to keep going if we want to keep doing this insane writing thing.
I, myself, was a very sensitive soul when I first started writing regularly. I thought I’d been roughed up thoroughly enough when I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Creative Writing from a prestigious private liberal arts school. But I must have received just a lot of minor scrapes and love taps instead because when I started my Master’s in Creative Writing, I was devastated at the end of every workshop. I’d come to class with a new piece to a workshop, lovely and shiny and well-edited, only to leave class, weeping, clutching a stack of scratched and bloodied critiques.
What I learned immediately is that I’d stood out in undergrad as a good writer, maybe even the “darling” of my program, and I’d just joined a Master’s program where everyone was a good writer. And I mean every single person. Some people were even — gasp! — better writers than me, but no one — and I mean NO ONE — was worse than me.
In good writing programs, everyone wants everyone else to excel. This means everyone is honest and harsh with their critiques. No beating around the bush here. Every first draft of a piece was a pretty good hunk of meat that needed to be tenderized before it became a killer steak.
So I got tougher skin (Frankly, I had to if I wanted to stop bursting into tears in the middle of class). And rejection didn’t stop once I’d graduated with a degree that said I knew something about writing. Really, it just got harder.
Then I was receiving rejections from journals, residencies, fellowships, retreats, book contests, agents, and presses. I received semi-finalist or finalist nods from contests. I received “this was good, but not right for us at this time” rejections from places as fancy as The New Yorker and book presses that would have guaranteed great success.
That’s where needing to learn to be like a boxer comes in.
Rocky Balboa said it best, “…it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward.”
You have to be a little insane to be a writer. You are signing up (albeit metaphorically) to get hit in the face on a regular basis while trying to pursue something you love. But what is most important is how you respond to each of those hits.
Do you lie on the ground and refuse to get back up, never write another article, never submit it to another publication or press again? Or do you take it square in the jaw and write and submit anyway?
Some writers handle this in a crazy fashion. They may make active plans to get a rejection. “I’m going to get FIFTY rejections this year!” they might tweet. (To be fair, the metaphor doesn’t quite work here because what boxer is like, “I’m going to get punched in the face FIFTY times this year! YEAH!”)
But if you’re continually hitting submit or send, you’re going to face rejection. Your article might not get any claps. The agent whom you were so excited asked for a partial doesn’t want to move forward with representing you. Whatever it may be, it’s a part of this wildly beautiful writing thing that a whole mess of us crazies are just as in love with as you are.
But, also, if you’re continually hitting submit or send, you’re going to get some acceptances too. You’re bound to if you keep at it.
So get your boxing gloves on, you writer you, and take that next rejection like a champ.