Hello and welcome to the blog. Last time I answered several questions so you could better get to know me both as a person and as a writer. In today’s post I would like to focus on a central topic. If you have a topic or a question you would like for me to cover, feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email. The topic for today is one that will have every writer reading this cringe. Rejection.
Why have I chosen such a depressing topic for the blog today? It’s simple. Every writer has faced rejection at one point or another. However, rejection isn’t simply for those of us who weave stories out of words on a page. It’s more universal than that, as I’m sure you know. Perhaps you were passed over for a dream job after feeling you nailed the interview. Or that girl you really liked turned you down after you worked up the courage to ask her out. No matter your background or your chosen career, there’s a good chance at some point along this road we call life that you’ve been rejected in some fashion. My personal stories of rejection happen to deal mostly with my life as a writer. Hopefully, you can relate.
Let’s start off with a simple definition of the word itself. Merriam-Webster defines rejection as the state of being rejected. This forces us to look at the definition for rejected, which is not given approval or acceptance. Simple and straightforward. Blunt and harsh. I think most of you would agree that we want and seek approval and acceptance from others, such is the way of the human spirit. To be denied that simple act can be crushing.
When I started submitting short stories to magazines at the age of nineteen, I didn’t know what to expect. I was young and thought I had a little bit of talent. The plan was to build my publishing credits in magazines for a few years, then have my first novel published by the time I was twenty-five. While I did write a novel by twenty-five, not much else went according to plan.
I wrote four or five short stories during my first venture into trying to get published. Most of those stories were rejected, though one was published by a dying literary magazine. By the time that story was accepted for publication I had already received several rejections on the other stories. All those noes made that one yes that much more satisfying. After receiving that yes, I thought this might not be so hard. I was wrong.
Over the course of the next eight years I went without hearing that coveted word we all crave to hear. Form rejection letters piled up, so to speak since most were in email form. My confidence waned. During those years I wrote two novels, which my eyes have only seen. Why didn’t I share those novels with the world? Or submit them to literary agents? Eight years of hearing that you’re not good enough can influence a person. In my case it wasn’t a good one.
My mind was a pool of self-doubt in which I found myself drowning. When I received an email from a magazine editor, I had to brace myself for the letdown I was about to receive. I came to think that maybe those editors were right. If my short stories weren’t any good, how could one of my novels be any better? So, I kept them to myself.
Those two novels are more than five years old now. I have gone back and reread a few pages of each. The sight of them brought a smile to my face. Oh, they weren’t good, in fact both were quite the opposite. However, the writing I was doing at the time I reread those stories was better by a wide margin. I realized those first novels were a writer struggling to find his own voice instead of copying his heroes.
I hadn’t realized while it was happening, but over the years my writing had gotten better. How had this happened? Looking back, I think there are three reasons. Remember those rejections I received over those eight long years without a publication? A couple of those came with comments about my writing. It took time, but eventually I learned those editors were right in their critique. The second reason I will dub self-awareness. No one is perfect, we all have faults. As a writer I knew what I did well and where I struggled, and I constantly worked on honing both. The third reason I alluded to above, I had found my voice. I no longer sounded like a cheap imitation of a famous writer, but a unique version of myself. It’s probably not a voice that will make me famous, but it’s mine.
If you read any of this post, I hope it’s this paragraph. This is the part where I get real. I have written a lot of short stories in my life. I have written six novels, plus two that are in the works. For those wondering, I have gotten over my fear of rejection and have submitted two of those to agents in the past. The point is I don’t count the number of times I’m rejected, but the number of times I’m published. In other words, I count the number of times I have succeeded, not the number of times I failed. For the record, I have published five short stories in magazines, one self-published short story, and soon to be one self-published novel. Those are my successes. That’s all that matters.
If you have a topic you would like me to cover, feel free to leave a comment below or shoot me an email. Like this page if moved to do so. Follow me on twitter @StephenRoth316.
Always follow your dreams, no matter how much they terrify you. Thanks for reading.
Stephen Michael Roth