Ilana-Masad-Love-Affair

A Love Affair with Rejection 

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Robert Mankoff got rejected from The New Yorker over 2,000 times. Back then, his rejections would come printed on slips of paper. Since submissions are mostly electronic these days, rejection letters are less tangible than they used to be. They don’t come in envelopes licked shut or touched by actual hands, be it an intern’s or the fiction editor’s. Now rejections are all emailed, cut-and-pasted, automated for the most part. Some places neglect to even send you rejection letters at all.

When I started receiving rejections, I copied and pasted them into a document that has lived in my Dropbox for years now and is titled “REJECTIONS ^_^”. Why the overenthusiastic smiley face? Because I made a promise to myself when I started submitting my work. Which was to have this outlook:

Rejections help you improve.

The prevailing opinion out there is that rejections suck. They hurt. They come from editors who know what they’re looking for and who recognize quality when they see it, so you might as well put away your laptop and never write again. Right? Wrong.

Look at it this way: being rejected means you’ve tried to do something. If you never try, and never get rejected, then how will anyone ever get the chance to accept you? To fall in love with your work? And if you never get rejected, how will you get better? How will you learn to hone your craft, to write that second and third and fourth draft, to prod yourself to really assess your work?

Rejections are not personal.

It takes a long time for many of us to begin doing so, and one of the reasons is the fear of rejection that permeates all aspects of life. Being rejected by someone you’ve asked out is a terrifying prospect. Being rejected from a job you’ve applied to can hurt your ego and your bank account. But having your writing, your artistic endeavour, rejected is perceived as a judgement call on your ability to make art and tell stories. This perception is false. The judgement is never on you as a person. Nor is it really about your abilities. It’s about your fit with the particular place you’ve submitted to.

Rejections prove that you dare.

It’s a big deal to put your writing out there. Let me quote The Butter’s rejection letter:

“We appreciate the chance to read your work and know that putting yourself out there as a writer is a hell of a thing.”

Not all rejection letters are this kind. But each one of them is equally important because—and this is the crucial thing to remember—if you have received a rejection letter, you not only have to have submitted, you have to have written something first. And that is what we’re all here to do, really: write. And keep writing. No matter what.

Rejections are a natural part of the process.

The fact of the matter is, you’re going to be rejected a lot. Each rejection means you’ve written something you’re proud of and believe in and have sent out into the world. It’s a brave thing to do. Give yourself a pat on the back. You’re doing the writer thing, even though it’s hard and can be discouraging. Submit enough, keep writing, and you will get accepted somewhere. But it’s not going to happen unless you keep going. Just like writing, editing, and submitting, rejections are a natural part of the process.

You could argue that my upbeat reasons for loving them are a defense mechanism. Maybe so. But it works. Because instead of getting terribly down about each rejection, I collect them (I have more than 70 at this point) and take pride in them. Because they tell me that I have continued writing despite the discouragement. Because they tell me I have written enough to continue submitting. Because every writer I’ve ever heard of and respect has been rejected countless times, and I figure that I’m paying my dues.

Rejections can be encouraging.

Even if you don’t manage to become super enthusiastic each time a publication turns you down, there is a kind of rejection letter you can really, truly look forward to. Eventually, someone will like your work. They will like it and see the potential in it, and in you as a writer. The editor will send you an individual rejection letter and you will be thrilled. It’ll be a joyful moment. Equal to being accepted, I’ve found. Because someone took the time to tell you something specific: that your story was great, but that the zine ran a similar one last month and can’t repeat the topic; that the genre confused them though the writing was lovely; or that it felt like a first draft and they’d love to see some of your other more polished and finished work. And who knows, maybe that editor will notice your name next time around and pull you out of the slush pile.

Bottom line, or the “too long; didn’t read” version: embrace the rejections. They’re a testimony to the fact that you haven’t given up the ghost, haven’t thrown in the towel, haven’t packed it in, haven’t sent up the white flag, or any other idiom meaning “giving up” that jives with you.

Remember Robert Mankoff? He’s better known these days as Bobby Mankoff, the cartoon editor of The New Yorker. He got rejected. Over and over and over again. If he had let the rejections beat him down, if he had stopped creating and submitting and receiving rejections, he wouldn’t be where he is today. Remember that.

 

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Ilana Masad is an Israeli-American writer. Her fiction and non-fiction have appeared in The New Yorker, Printer’s Row, Tin House’s Open Bar, McSweeney’s, Hypertext Magazine, and more. She is also the founder of TheOtherStories.org, a podcast featuring new, emerging, and struggling writers.