We are SO excited to announce a new, bi-monthly feature on DIY MFA — Ask Becca. Every other Friday, our very own Becca Jordan will be answering your questions about writing, reading and community.
Got a question? Tweet @beccaquibbles with the hashtag #askbecca. Or just leave a comment below!
You might see it answered right here on DIYMFA!
A lot of rejection letters have been coming in lately. I’ve started to question my abilities as a writer, but I don’t want to stop writing. What should I do?
You suck at writing. If we have to read one more paragraph of the world’s most poorly-strung set of words, courtesy of you, we might decide never to read another book again. Just in case your words are in them. For the love of all that is holy, spare us the misery and stick to your day job.
How did that make you feel? If you’re anything like me, it probably made you feel like a nerd huddled in the corner of the locker room with a petite cheerleader (who happened to have been kissing the male lead of the school play not an hour earlier) giving you the dreaded Z-formation.
So you mope around for a while, but then that rejection starts to make you angry. Really, really angry. So angry that you wake up the next day and pump out 5,000 words out of spite.
Congratulations! You have joined the ranks of hundreds of thousands of other writers who have received rejections and kept on truckin’. And do you know what that means? You are a writer. So pick yourself up by your bootstraps and quit your bellyachin’.
For reals, though: Rejection is tough. I’ve published a half-hand-full of poems (three exactly), and do you even want to know how many form rejections I have? Do you really? More than fifty, and I get a new one every day. And I’ve got news: They don’t get any easier to swallow.
But let’s play a hypothetical game. Say you’ve gotten, I don’t know, like, 200 rejections. So many rejections you’ve started shoving them onto a railroad spike hammered into your wall, and the spike is almost full. And say a recent rejection looks something like this:
“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”
That really gets to you, because after all, most of your work is about science fiction that deals with “negative utopias.” Maybe your significant other likes it, but you’re starting to think it’s a load of garbage.
So maybe you stop writing, because after all, what you love to write “does not sell,” and nobody has given you any reason to believe, in the five years you’ve been writing, that you’re any good at it.
And let’s pretend the book you’re trying to get published is called Carrie, and your name is Stephen King.
HELLO! Did Stephen King just give up on his writing career?
In reality, we all know he didn’t. He pushed through that rejections and went on to sell Carrie, make the New York Times Bestsellers 34 times, and become a household name.
I’m not saying that you’re going to be the next Stephen King, but I’m not saying you’re not, either. Here are some facts:
Rejections don’t define you.
You’re going to wake up tomorrow, go to work, laugh with your family, and be the same person you were before someone had an opinion about your work (unless you’re the Hulk, in which case, you’ve probably got bigger things to worry about than writing anyway).
Rejections don’t define your writing.
Unless everything you write forever afterward is unadulterated $h!te. And even if you do write $h!te, guess what? You can learn and write more and better next time.
Rejections are all based on opinion.
Not everyone is going to dig your eHarmony profile, and that’s a good thing. Don’t settle and don’t try to please every high-maintenance man (I mean, uhm, reader) out there. You want to wait for the One. Not everyone is going to love your book, but your ideal readers? They’re the Ones worth waiting for.
Rejections happen to everyone.
Comedians, presidents, inventors, TV hosts, Greek philosophers, and even people named Walt Disney. It’s part of life.
Rejections give you tough skin.
Like a lizard. They may take your tail off, but gosh darn it, you’ll grow another one.
Rejections allow you to separate yourself from your work.
- And yes, it does feel like pulling out your own heart from your chest and putting it under a microscope. But it also lets you look more objectively on your work to see what can be fixed (careful, it’s still illegal to do surgery on your own heart).
I’ve gotten about ten rejections on a story I love, all because of the ending. And just a few days ago, as I was writing this post, one magazine took a chance and gave me the opportunity to revise. It’s not exactly an invitation to the NYT bestseller list, but it’s something. It’s an opportunity to see that I don’t have to be married to my work. I might even test out some other opinions and see how I like my new ending (and if not, I’ll just chop it off and grow a new one!).
I leave you with this pithy note to Sylvia Plath, who is part of the canon of American poets.
“…There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.”
I hope you have the courage to receive a rejection like that. I hope that it will make you angry – angry enough to sit down and pound out another poem, another story, another chapter. I hope you believe in yourself enough to keep getting rejected long after you’re famous, as Plath was when she got this one.
With a B.A. in B.S. (translation: English Major), Rebecca Ann Jordan is a poet and speculative fiction author in San Diego. She has published poetry and flash pieces in Yemassee Magazine, Bravura Literary Journal, and Images Magazine, and currently acts as Junior Assistant Editor at Bartleby Snopes. Her fetishes include controversial grammar, mythological happenings and yarn-swapping. Or maybe she made all of that up. Quibble with her @beccaquibbles.