100 Rejections Or, This Is What It is To Be A Writer

As someone who didn’t go on a date until she was eighteen, I’m pretty familiar with rejection. (Is a trip to the dining hall a date? What about hanging out in someone else’s dorm room? Based on some people’s “date” parameters, it is entirely possible that I’ve still never been on an actual date.)

With my first three MFA rejections all piling up within a week of each other (two on the same morning!) I would say that rejection has been on my mind.

Pretty much the first thing they teach about being a writer is that you have to get used to rejection. I’m talking the first day of class. Before you even need to know how to write an interesting sentence, you need to know that rejection is looming on the horizon.

The first real-life writer I met told me that he used to decorate his bathroom with rejections, that he’d decoupage them to the walls like wallpaper. “We regret to inform you…” and “Unfortunately…” and “We’re very sorry to say…” staring at him every time he undressed to get into the shower. (I’m of the opinion that facing rejection while naked is the worst way to face rejection, but whatever works for you.)

I’ve known people who set their rejections on fire, who move them quickly to the “Shame” folder in their gmail, who have ripped them into sad confetti.

Another writer told me he used to try to turn the table on rejection. Every year, he’d set one goal for himself. His goal wasn’t to get published. It wasn’t to read more, or write more, or lose weight. His goal was to get one hundred rejection letters that year. So instead of feeling that usual stomach-dropping dread of getting rejected, he’d be a little closer to his goal. (This man was, of course, a genius.)

I would suggest re-reading the rejection letter until you have it memorized, or ordering a large pizza with breadsticks, or just sitting in the bathroom for your entire lunch break, staring at the lock on the stall, thinking about all of the other jobs you could have had if you’d payed a little more attention in science class, or majored in business, or known what networking meant. (Not really. Don’t do these things. I am the worst at advice.)

I guess the point is, that even if you think you are ready for rejection, it has a way of punching you in the exact spot you can’t block. If you can help it, try not to think of a rejection as a rejection. Turn off the logic part of your brain and think of each rejection as your validation as a writer, because there’s nothing writers love more than a good rejection story.

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20 thoughts on “100 Rejections Or, This Is What It is To Be A Writer

  1. Yeah… rejections suck. I’m kind of thankful that (so far) they’ve arrived in my inbox within minutes of each other. I figure I don’t know which one is more upsetting that way.

    The way I see it… we’re not gonna stop writing just because we didn’t get into some program. If it were that easy, we’re not writers. We’re just wasting time.

    Head up. Fingers to the keyboard. And think about Rowling 😉

  2. I applied for my MFA this year, too. Although I haven’t heard a word back (which is almost worst than rejection), I just keep telling myself to expect nothing but bad news… That way, maybe it at least won’t come as a surprise. It’s important to remember that MFA programs have only a 6% acceptance rate in America (which is where you are? I dunno) and that a few schools won’t deter who you are as a writer, but rather make you even better!

    That being said, I do hope you get positive news! Good luck!

  3. I have another rejection response: let them pile in your inbox or file. They’ll make the acceptances all the sweeter. I especially like your pizza response, though, mainly because it sounds like an excellent excuse to cheat on my “at least TRY to eat healthier” goal.

    Sorry to hear about your MFA rejections – I’m sure good things are looming ahead regardless!

  4. When I face rejection in any situation, I remember something someone once told me—not my Aunt Beulah, but someone with equal insight into how to comfort a wild-haired adult writhing with the pain of rejection: “Janet, give yourself two days to suck your thumb and feel sorry for yourself, then learn what you can from the experience and put it down.” Easier said than done, but I keep trying.

  5. Thank you for liking my post. I, too, just got a triple punch-to-the-gut this week with rejections from 3 of the MFA Creative Writing programs I’ve applied to, including one that was my “plan B” school because funding fell through and there will likely be no program at all now. Now that plan B is also out the window, I’m having to look rejection right in its big, ugly face and try to wrap my mind around the fact that next fall I might be sitting at a desk in an office rather than a classroom. But I am finding with every day that it gets easier to see past this giant wall and consider other possibilities.

    1. Hang in there. Plenty of writers didn’t get MFAs so if this route doesn’t work, we can just try another. After wallowing, of course. Schedule in some wallowing first. 🙂

      1. Pretty sure almost all notable writers didn’t get MFAs, even (albeit partly because most writers didn’t live in America in the last few decades).

        I must admit, I’ve never really understood what writing classes are for, what they teach you that you can’t learn without them… but then that’s pretty hypocritical coming from someone with a philosophy degree, I realise. [Philosophy and politics, actually – conveniently, the two subjects that everybody believes they’re the world’s greatest expert in even if they’ve never even picked up a book on the subject, which always makes for fun conversations at dinner parties].

  6. My first high school writing class was wallpapered with the teacher’s rejections. 🙂

    I think of rejections as scars, and I’m proud of them in that same kind of morbid way. Like people who show off the scars from near-fatal injuries. Scars are proof that you did something dangerous and survived.

    And, okay, applying for grad school =/= death-defying stunt, but hard and scary and potentially emotionally devastating, and how many people never work up the courage to apply?

  7. Despite what people say, rejections never get easier. I repeat: never. What does get easier is the writing; the more you do it, the better you get. It’s a simple formula: apply ass to chair and type. And in between writing time, read!

    I think MFA programs are worthwhile–I do have an MA in Creative Writing myself–but they are hardly mandatory. I could bore you with my own grad school rejection stories, but I won’t; I’ll just say I was rejected (rightly so) by several before I was accepted. The writing program itself, while helpful, was not revelatory or anything. The best thing I got out of it was some encouragement from writers/professors I respected.

    I said all that to say this: try not to dwell on rejections for too long; use them as motivation. I’ve managed to publish many short stories, and my debut novel GO GO GATO is coming out this summer on Camel Press. And I attribute these meager accomplishments not to any writing program, but persistence. To paraphrase a great writer: you want to be a successful writer, you need luck, talent, and discipline, and for my money, discipline trumps them all.

    Keep writing. Stay disciplined.

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