Rejection. It’s such a nasty word. Just reading it twists my lips into a sneer. But when you’re choosing the writing life, rejection is a necessary evil. Actually, scratch that. Everyone (job applicants, online dating users, would-be homebuyers, stamp collectors, etc.) has to deal with rejection at some point.
A couple of weeks ago, I was rejected by my two “safety” schools, i.e. MFA programs that accept 4% of applicants rather than the top-tiers that admit 0.5%—sadly, these figures are not an exaggeration. The rejection stings, and how could it not? I poured time, energy, and money into these applications. And when you share a work that is kind of your baby—be it a short story, sculpture, business project, or research thesis—it hurts when the powers that be decide that your baby is kind of ugly. [Admittedly, my baby was a first draft that could have benefited from some cosmetic surgery.]
On the other hand, this is the name of the game in the writing world and beyond. Last month, I met an author whose novel was on the New York Times‘ 2013 list of notable books. That same day I had been rejected by his MFA alma mater (the one with the 0.5% acceptance rate). I got up the gumption to mention this while talking with him, and his thoughtful reply could not have been more buoying. He told me to not be discouraged and confided that the first time he applied to MFA programs, he was rejected by all ten schools. His story, along with similar ones from other writers made the rejection letters seem more like badass Girl Scout badges than artistic rebuffs.
Of course, it’s hard to remember this when your safety schools say no.
I’m still not completely over the burn, but I’ve compiled a Neosporin regimen of sorts to get the healing started. My list skips past “Denial,” since I did it but don’t recommend it. Just because the ostrich is my spirit animal does not mean that you should stick your head in the ground when bad news arrives. That’s my schtick, and we can’t all have the same spirit animal, can we?
- Process: Wanna cry? Cry. Have a craving for a whole bar of chocolate? Have at it. You can bury your feelings or put them off for now, but it’s like peeing. Eventually it’s going to come out, so try to do it when a bathroom is nearby.
- Step away: If you don’t feel like writing on the heels of a rejection, take some time off. It could be a weekend or even a couple of weeks. Think of it like getting throw from a horse. If it was just like a few scratches and bruises, give it that amount of time. If you broke a leg, maybe give a bit longer. Eventually, you want to get back on that crazy-ass horse.
- Confide: Hopefully you have at least one amazing friend who is the perfect confidante. Not only will she tell you that the rejectors were idiots—no, IMBECILES!—to reject you. She’ll also make you laugh. And *fingers crossed* bring you a bottle of wine.
- Sweet escape: Read a YA novel.* Seriously. Take a weekend trip to the beach, the mountains, the mall—whatever gets you out of your head and your home/office.
- Edit, edit, edit: As a writer and editor, I’m amazed that this mantra doesn’t come more naturally. When a story doesn’t work, change it. Are you still determined to pursue the same path despite the brambles? Or do you want to go somewhere new? Edit your path as much and as often as you want. You might aspire to publish a manuscript, but your life will never be sent to the presses until you’re being sent to the pyre, and even then there will be room for debate [“Jurrasic Park was her favorite movie, not The Wizard of Oz!” For the record, both answers would be right].
This list is hardly comprehensive. I’m just now working my way to steps 4 and 5 and there could be sixteen more after that. I don’t think rejection, like a paper cut, ever becomes pleasant, but it is a paper cut, not a guillotine. You’ve still got a good head on yours shoulders when all is said and done, and you can use it to keep on keeping on.
*Divergent, you should be reading Divergent. It’s like spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.