As is my morning routine I fired up my e-mail and right there at the top of my inbox was a rejection letter on a short story I had submitted last week.
Now, I’m closing in on my 40th year of writing. I’ve received my fair share of these in my time. So when I get one, its not the end of the world. It still sucks. But I’m not going to throw in the towel whenever I get one.
In this case, about 15 minutes later I had submitted that same story to another publication. And that is the best thing any writer can do after a rejection letter hits their mailbox. Have your pout for 10-15 seconds and then move on to the next publication submission and/or the next story.
Let’s say you are a first-timer and you are naturally thinking the worst: I’m terrible at this and I should go find a job flipping burgers.
In the first place: Never think that. A rejection letter is just one person saying they didn’t think your story would fit what they do. That’s it. There are way too many publishers and content seekers out there looking for stories for you to throw in the towel on the first no. Yet, I see new writers on the verge of doing just that when they get their first, or second, rejection letter.
Whenever I am asked about my first rejection letter I am happy to share the experience, especially with new writers. Because that first one was a soul-killer. It was 1982 and I had submitted a short story to a national magazine that I personally enjoyed reading and was edited by someone I respected. This is back in the days when you typed your story on a typewriter and if you made a mistake, you got to retype the whole page over – unless you had one of those expensive machines that had the correction tape in the cartridge. I didn’t have one of those. So, after all that hard work, off it went to the publisher.
And back it came from the publisher with a severely scathing rejection letter that suggested that “I never again befoul the holy calling of writing again and resign myself to the realm of food service.” And yes, that is a direct quote and yes, that was the nicest thing this editor said. Trust me, I’ll never forget that line or the feelings I had as I read that letter.
Obviously, I didn’t let that letter stop me. Nearly 40 years later, I’ve carved out a pretty good run as a writer. As for that letter, did I just wad it up and throw it in the trash? Nope.
I tacked that letter up on the corkboard above my typewriter – and later above my computer monitor when I made that transition – and left it right where I could see it for several years. I used that letter as motivation. Any time I considered giving up I just read that letter again and used the anger to fuel my drive to keep going. Eventually, I threw it away. I no longer needed it to motivate me to write.
And that’s what I tell new writers who just got their first rejection letter. Yes, its disappointing. But use it to motivate yourself to keep writing, to keep submitting and to finally succeed.
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