Let me tell you a story.
A few years ago, when I was just starting to publish short stories, I had a conversation with my half-brother David. He told me about a friend of his, a young woman who had sent her very first attempt at short fiction to The New Yorker magazine about twenty years before. And The New Yorker had bought that story from her, first crack out of the box.
"Oh, wow," I said. "That must have been horrible."
As indeed it was. This woman didn't understand at the time what an achievement she had accomplished. Instead, she had learned an odd lesson: you send a story to a magazine, and then they publish it. Isn't that what's supposed to happen?
It's like the old joke about the first-time golfer who scores a hole-in-one, and is surprised by the amazement of everyone around him. "Isn't that what you're supposed to do?" he asks. "Isn't that the point of the game?"
Indeed it is. But it's rare for it to happen like that.
In the case of David's friend, she hadn't been inoculated, as it were, by a series of repeated rejections before making that first sale. So when she sent her second, and then third, and then fourth story to The New Yorker, and they all got rejected, she started to wonder what was wrong with her and her stories, and in the end, she stopped writing and she stopped submitting.
Rejection is the name of the game. If you're a writer, if you're sending out stories or novels or articles or essays or whatever, you should expect at some point to have your work rejected. And for a few reasons, rejection can actually be a good thing. Besides the one I mentioned one above, here's a few more:
Rejection tells you that you're taking risks as a writer. If your work is always being accepted, perhaps you're not stretching your literary muscles enough.
Rejection reminds you not to coast on whatever laurels you've earned, but to treat every new project as one for which you want to do your best.
Rejection keeps you humble. Now, perhaps most people reading this feel that they don't need to be kept humble, but I bet you can all think of other writers for whom this would be a good thing.... :-)
And one final thought -- being rejected demonstrates that you're actually submitting work, showing that you're taking yourself seriously as a professional writer.
(By the way, Masello has some other thoughts and advice on rejection, which has little to do with what I've written about here. I encourage you to take a look.)
Copyright © Michael Burstein