Learning to Live With Rejection

(Originally appeared in The Beach Reporter on 6/24/93)

All of us face rejection in some form or another during our lives. A girlfriend or boyfriend finds someone else, a boss suggests a new line of work, our children reject our lifestyle and go live in a commune.

But there are a few professions where people deal with rejection on a daily basis. Sales people face rejection when they can’t sell their product or service. Actors might face rejection when they try out for a part. Writers face the possibility of rejection every time they send out their work for publication.

At least a sales rep can cushion the blow of rejection by transferring the negative to the product they are selling. “They still like me, it’s just the product they don’t like.” Really good salespeople can actually look at rejection as a positive – they are just that much closer to a sale.

For a writer, it’s somewhat different. What you write is so tied up with who you are and what you believe, that rejection feels more personal. Let’s say you have an essay you have worked on, crafted to perfection, and sent it off to the perfect market. This is likely to be the reply to your efforts:
Dear Writer: Thank you for letting us consider your work. We regret that we are unable to use it. Best of luck placing it elsewhere. The Editors
Or: Thanks for your interest in XYZ Magazine. Although your story has merit, it does not meet our current editorial needs. The Editors.

There are several ways that writers deal with rejection. Where do you think writers got the reputation of being heavy drinkers? That’s one way to block out the pain.

Other writers isolate themselves, cutting themselves off from family and friends during times of creative crisis. I’ve tried this, but I always end up coming out of my office because I can’t stand the whimpering of my children when they are hungry.

My way of dealing with rejection is to ignore it and move on. Sure it hurts, but like the salesman, I have to be practical about it. After all, no one is forcing me to be a writer. I chose this God-forsaken “career” on my own. Or it chose me. I don’t really know what came first.

I do eat chocolate and get a bit cranky when I get a rejection that really hurts. But my file doesn’t read “rejected essays,” it reads “in progress.” And, yes, I do save many of my rejection slips. When I was just starting out in the writing trade, I used to wring my hands over every rejection. Maybe I really am a lousy writer!

It took me two years of sending out my work before I got my first essay published – on the front page of the View section of the Los Angeles Times. It was one of the most thrilling days of my life. I waited all day for my friends to call and tell me they had seen it. No one called. Back to work.

Since that day in 1987, I have published more than 200 essays in The Beach Reporter alone, and several dozen more in national and local newspapers and magazines.

That still doesn’t mean that everything I send out gets published. In fact, it barely gives you an edge. It usually just means that someone (an editor, agent, or publisher) probably won’t relegate it immediately to the slush pile. In the writers group I belong to, we even share our “positive rejections” with each other, as a sign that we are that much closer to closing the deal.

The average reader probably isn’t aware of the hustling that it takes to get an essay or article into publication. Writers are generally thought of as creative types who wouldn’t dirty their hands with commerce.

Whenever I get a particularly crushing rejection I turn to my writing books, which offer up tons of great rejection stories about famous authors. One favorite anecdote is about Irving Stone, who had his first novel rejected by twenty-six publishers before being accepted and granted a $500 advance. In one reader’s report, was this comment, “Lust For Life by I. Stone. A long, dull novel about an artist.”

You have to keep the faith.

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