After what felt like an eternity (but was, in reality, 118 days), I got an email notification on my phone telling me that the literary journal I had my eye on finally got back to me.
I wasn’t nervous before. In fact, I thought I was ready for whatever the answer was about my short story — a story that I was proud of, that I’d gotten compliments on from my writing critique group, and that I still feel confident about, even now. But the second I saw that notification, I felt like I’d never shared any of my writing with anyone: it felt like the first time. I was actually nervous.
I waited with bated breath for 118 days, and finally I was about to have my answer.
Submitting to literary journals can be a scary thing. For us fiction writers, whether we focus on long-form stories like novels or short-form stories like flash fiction and…well, short stories, completing an entire tale takes a lot of time and effort. Blood, sweat, and tears go into our craft, so when we finally finish a story that we’re proud of, it’s frightening to think that sending it out into the world might mean that it’s rejected.
That’s not an irrational fear. Rejections happen every day, and every writer who has submitted something is probably familiar with the feeling of disappointment that comes with the line “thanks for sending this in, but…” It’s disheartening for our work to be rejected.
When I submitted a short story of mine to a journal that I admire, I kept my fingers crossed for a long time. I’ve waited for months to hear back from a literary journal before, but as the days passed, I began to wonder if a long response time was good or bad. And, after 118 days, I found that email in my inbox and became equally excited and terrified.
I somehow managed to underestimate how much I wanted to see that acceptance email. I played it cool for 118 days, but at that moment all I could do was hold my breath and take a moment to compose myself before opening the email.
Thanks, but no thanks.
Don’t get me wrong: I understand that rejection letters aren’t necessarily a sign that my writing is bad or even that it needs more work. There are instances where that’s true, and I definitely go back over my work whenever they’re rejected to see what I can improve (if it needs improvement at all). But there are just some editors who don’t connect with the story, or times when the story doesn’t fit with the journal. And that’s okay.
It does hurt, though. Despite the impersonal nature, even though I know that I’m a good writer, that I will continue to improve, and that my stories are worth sending out, it’s hard not to react negatively when faced with rejection – especially from journals that I would love to work with.
At first, I just sat with the news and allowed myself to feel sad. But then, I was reminded of something I discovered a few years ago, when I sent my first query letter out to an agent (now I know how underdeveloped that book was and how it wasn’t nearly ready for an agent’s eyes – ah, well, live and learn!). Rejection is a necessary step on a writer’s journey to publication. And it’s not just a necessity – it’s a joy.
I don’t want to come off as overly positive to the point of annoyance, but let’s look at the facts here: you only receive a rejection if you send something out in the first place.
It can be difficult to work up the courage to share your work. That’s something I used to struggle with in the past. It’s gotten easier, but writing will always be very personal to me. Every story I write feels like a small part of myself. It would be super easy to keep that part of me close and never let another pair of eyes see it.
But sharing my work is such a joy, and it shows that I have enough faith in myself to believe that other people will enjoy what I’ve written. In some way, it’ll be valuable to someone, just like it’s valuable to me. But if I never send my babies out into the world, if I keep them clutched close forever, then they’ll never get the chance to thrive.
A rejection letter may sting, but it’s also proof that I’m actively working to share my stories. It’s proof that someone has read what I’ve written – and even if they didn’t think it had a place with them, I still tried.
It was one of my resolutions last year to submit to more literary journals and keep myself moving forward. That goal doesn’t necessarily hinge on acceptance; whether or not my story is rejected, I still fulfilled that goal last year. And I plan to continue, even if that journey includes many more rejections along the way.
In fact, I hope that it does! I want to see many more rejections in my future because each one testifies to the fact that I’m growing more confident in myself as a writer and that I’m always working on something. Beyond that initial disappointment, I jump for joy when I receive a rejection letter. It means I’m trying.
I know this line of thinking won’t work for everyone. Rejection is difficult to deal with, no matter how you slice it. But it’s also important to remember that a rejection letter isn’t about rejecting you. It isn’t even entirely about rejecting your work. It’s just a note saying that the story isn’t a good fit. And that’s okay.
No matter what, I’m going to keep on moving forward and collecting each rejection I receive. They’ve become far more encouraging than I ever thought possible – some of them even come with personalized notes along the lines of, “I enjoyed your story; it just isn’t ready yet” or “send more next time.” But even the automatic, coldly impersonal ones keep me moving. If nothing else, the many rejections I receive can tell a pretty colorful story themselves.
Each person’s writer’s journey is unique, but I think a lot can be learned by receiving rejection and learning how to handle it. As for me, I’ll continue to get excited every time I find a new rejection in my inbox. I’m happy with my growth, and I’m thrilled to see where my building self-confidence will lead me.
Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash