One rejection is just that: one.
I was young when I applied to an MFA program — only 24. I felt old though. For one thing, I had always been a year older than everyone in school because I’d started late. I also took a gap year between my second and third years of college, so by the time I finished undergrad, I felt about two years behind.
“ Comparison is the thief of joy.”
What I have since realized about “feeling behind” is that it’s only present when I’m comparing myself to other people. I started school later than other people. I graduated later than other people. At the time, being rejected from grad school felt like another failure to add to an ever growing list. Now, knowing far more about academia than I did then, I realize I would have likely dropped out or if I had finished, would have become a professor which would require a level of professionalism I’m uninterested in maintaining.
Here are some things that rejection, among the many others I’ve received, have taught me.
- Rejection isn’t a failure. I know, it feels like one. If acceptance was the reward, certainly rejection is the punishment, right? I don’t think so. Rejection is just a part of life. We’ll all be rejected far more times than we’re accepted, until your reputation of excellence proceeds you and you never see another rejection letter again. I don’t know how much work that takes to achieve — you would have to ask someone like Alice Walker or the late Toni Morrison. I don’t imagine I’ll ever get there but if I stand any chance of it, I, like you, must keep writing.
- Rejection isn’t personal. I read a tweet a couple weeks ago from writer Ilana Kaplan that said, “being a freelance writer is thinking everyone hates you at all times.” It’s a hilarious tweet, mostly because, at least in my experience, it’s super accurate. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that the people rejecting your work don’t hate you. They don’t even know you. I’ve never been an editor, but I do know that there are a lot of factors that go into a publication accepting work, often including how that work fits in with work that has already been selected. This is just one example of a factor that has nothing to do with what you’ve written, let alone who you are as a person. If a rejection makes you cry, you’re not alone in that club, trust me. It can be difficult to take the emotions out of submitting work, and you’re a human and an artist, so you don’t have to, but try to remember it’s one story that’s being turned down, not you as a person.
- You’re not the first person to be rejected. This is the beauty of finding friends who are writers and joining writing groups — you get to share your highs and lows. Quickly you realize that everyone has fallen on their face at least a few times in this writing game. Sharing your experiences with fellow writers and reading about theirs helps to develop a realistic picture of the writing world. Most people are honest and so you learn it’s not all birthday cake and rainbows. Everyone is working hard. Everyone is trying their best. Sometimes things work out the way you want, sometimes they don’t. Best case scenario, you live to write another day.
- You’ll never be rejected from something that’s meant for you. It feels like everyone else is getting the opportunities you’ve been working for. In reality, they’re getting the opportunities that they’ve been working for. Or maybe they’re just getting lucky. Either way, it doesn’t have anything to do with you. Think of it like this: every rejection is narrowing your path down to where you’re truly meant to go.
- Rejection will help you become a stronger writer. It’s true. If you love writing — and I don’t think you would have read this far if you didn’t — then you will make whatever adjustments are necessary to keep getting better. The best rejections are the ones that come with feedback. They’re so few and far between these days but they are precious. Appreciate them. Even if you don’t agree with the critique, be thankful that someone took the time to give it to you. If you don’t get a personalized feedback, someone still read your work and that’s one more person than had read it before. You might think people don’t remember you, but, they do. Editors see the same names frequently, because often writers submit many times to publications they enjoy reading.
One rejection is just that: one. Try again. You never know if someone might remember you and notice your improvement over time.
Kesia Alexandra is a creative writer from Washington, DC. She studied at Boston University. She’s on Twitter and Instagram. She’s the author of It Ain’t Easy, Eating off the Floor and Majestic and Lynn.