In the late summer of 2011, I did something that, in retrospect, was a gamble. I left a full time job to write. Yes, there would be freelance work (read: paid gigs) but it was a conscious decision to check out of one career and make a running leap at another.
And almost immediately, I began sending my work into the world. I had taken a class with Jessica Grant a few months earlier and had a few stories stock piled away. I sent them to contests and journals. Anyone who has been through this maze knows it is a tedious, time consuming, soul destroying process that usually ends with a self addressed stamped envelope bearing a form letter rejection. If you’re lucky, someone will have scrawled the name of your story in pencil so you’ll know which one got the thumbs down.
Fast forward three and a half years. 2014 came and went and yes, I’d had a bit of success. A couple of short stories won awards. One made a long list. I’d done a couple of public readings and won a grant. But mostly what I had was a whole lot of rejection. Rejection and lost competitions.
Everyone has their own way of dealing with the words "no, thanks." My strategy has been to keep my work in circulation (five stories go out in a batch, rejections roll in more or less together, I re-shuffle the deck and send them all out again). The rule is: don’t wallow; write.
The thing about publications and prizes is that they don’t tell the whole story. The whole story, at the end of 2014, was that I had a disciplined (more or less, let’s be honest...no one is perfect!) writing practice. I was in the habit of submitting my work. I had the first draft of a novel and a collection of short stories I was proud to send out. Hundreds of thousands of beautiful words. It ain’t nothing!
Writing is a leap of faith. Submission is a gamble. And rejection is a knife in the heart. But what is to be gained by indulging the knife? Pull it out, throw it away. Get. Back. To. Work.
Cheryl Strayed tackled rejection and professional jealousy in an old Dear Sugar column. And her words, as always, ring with truth and wisdom. She’s speaking here about jealousy but it could just as easily be applied to rejection: