Rejection is Your Teacher
By Scott Warner
Copyright © 2007 by Scott Warner, All Rights Reserved
Some time ago I realized I didn't learn
to write by writing. I learned to write by getting published. And as
wonderful as it is to just send off a piece and receive a check, that
isn't how it happens. At least, not at first. Rejection is not only a
normal part of a writer's life, it's healthy. Rejection can also be your
Rejection hurts, and no one likes it.
After my first short story ever submitted was published in a top market,
I received dozens of rejections. My reaction was always the same: I went
straight to sleep, shoes and all. For a time I stopped writing.
But like any of life's failures,
rejection is an opportunity. How you choose to respond can make or break
you as a writer.
While disappointment may be your first
reaction to opening a rejection, it's important to realize that you have
a choice. How you react is up to you. You may choose to ignore it ("It
doesn't matter"), shrug it off ("Oh, well"), rationalize it ("The editor
doesn't like me"), exaggerate it ("It's handwritten, so it's practically
an acceptance"), analyze it to death ("The editor used future tense, so
he wants to publish it"), overreact ("I've got to completely rewrite"),
or learn from it ("Let's see what I can improve"). Depending on what
else is happening in your life at the time, you may choose one or
another favorite saw.
But what you want and what you need are
not always the same. And you can choose to learn from a rejection even
if your initial reaction is different.
Surely there are many reasons for an
editor to reject a good piece of writing -- it doesn't fit, the
editorial calendar is full, personal preference -- but you should keep
in mind that the editor wants you to succeed. He or she doesn't want to
receive poor writing that's a waste of time to read. It may -- just may
-- be possible that editors also hate writing rejection slips, because
they've been there and done that. They know what you're going through.
The implication here is that writing is
a professional partnership between you and an editor. It is rarely a
teacher-student relationship. An editor has every expectation that you
have something to say and know how to say it. Indeed, he or she is
relying on you to write. And just like any of us, an editor may get
excited about an idea, even if the writer misses the mark.
Thinking of writing, on spec or not, as
a professional partnership not only elevates it above a shot in the
dark; it makes the lowly rejection slip a necessary learning tool. A
rejection, then, is no mere slap-down but a professional opinion
rendered in the appropriate time and manner. An editor wants good
writing and expects to write rejections as much as you expect to receive
A partnership also implies a range of
compatibility. Let's face it -- in our working lives some people are
easier to understand and get along with than others -- and editors and
writers are no different. When it "clicks," it's magic. When it doesn't,
it isn't. Not every submission or rejection is the same. Even so,
professional relationships entail respect and decorum. The end result --
you as a writer creating quality writing -- is desired by both parties.
But if these relationships are
different, however subtle or obvious, how can you possibly learn from
rejections? Why not simply move on to the next editor?
That's one approach, and you can try it
to see what happens. But one definition of insanity is to do the same
thing many times and expect different results. Think of rejections as
tools to help you create different results. Put simply, if you expect an
editor to treat your writing seriously, return the favor and be thankful
you have a new opportunity to learn.
It's safe to say that if your attitude
is one of "What can I learn to improve?" you're in a good place to take
these basic steps:
Give yourself time to react. Your
first, emotional response will likely be a natural, painful pang in
your gut. This may be followed by regret, even anger. Let it run its
course. Afterward, examine the rejection with your intellect.
Realize that while all writing is
rejected for a reason, you may not know what that reason is. Don't
beat yourself up about it, but always accept it at face value. It is
what it is.
Accept an editor's reasoning as
honest, if any reason for rejection is given. If, for example, "Too
expository" is checked off on a preprinted slip, examine your
writing with this in mind.
If no reason is given and your
piece is simply ignored, returned, or rejected with a bland reply,
do your homework: read and understand your target to make sure your
submission fits; read the editorial guidelines carefully; reread
your work to make certain there are no grammatical and spelling
Let it go. A rejection is, it must
be said, one event. It may be one of dozens, hundreds, or thousands.
There's no sense in beating yourself up about it or thinking it is
more than it is. Accept it, learn from it, and move on.
only are writers all different, but
editors are, too. If you submit to a variety of publications, you are
more likely to find the best place for you to learn.
A hallmark of professionalism is the
attitude that learning is a road and not just a destination. The dynamic
process of writing is no different, and rejection is part of its
learning curve. Fraught with heartache and setbacks, it can have its
share of triumphs and kicks. It's wonderful when a rejection can point
you abruptly toward success. Look for it, and you'll be a better writer.