I once wrote a short story and titled it “Rejected.” It got rejected a kazillion times. I thought to myself, “Perhaps that’s not such a good title for a short story.” I changed the story title, and…it still got rejected a kazillion more times, until I retired it.

Retirement meaning: I forgot about it. It’s gathering dust in my hard drive. What the hell do writers do with stories that never ever get published? I feel like I should have some sort of burial ceremony. For every story of mine that’s been published, there exist at least a few more that will forever be wallflowers, never asked to dance, lingering on the sidelines. Poor dears.

So in a sense, there are quite a few stories I’ve written whose titles are unofficially, “Rejected.”

My friend at Writerland wrote a post titled (and about) “Dealing With Rejection”. It is a timely post, at least for me, because even though I’m always dealing with rejection as a writer, this week has been especially tough on my psyche.

I don’t deal with rejection well. My first short story was published in ZYZZYVA a few years ago in the early 2000s. But here’s the thing: the published story was written eight years prior. I didn’t submit it anywhere other than ZYZZYVA–it took me eight years to send it out, because I couldn’t deal with the thought of being rejected.

After that acceptance (what a bluebird! It was the only place I’d sent my work), I was buoyed, and sent my stories out. I have since been rejected hundreds of times. It’s awful. Sometimes, I brush a rejection off. Other times, I want to burrow under the covers and stay there for weeks. I’ve been driven to suicidal thoughts, I’ve thought of giving up. But I’ve kept on going.

I’ve kept on going with my writing, not because of any special coping device, but simply because there’s nothing I’d rather do than write. Even if I feel that I only produce mediocre, trite writing…it’s still all I’d rather do, and the thought of a life without writing drives me to dark insanity.

I deal with rejection in both healthy and unhealthy ways:

  • I feel sorry for myself. I wallow in self pity. I question myself. I become imbued with self doubt.
  • I go for a run. Hell, if my psyche’s suffering, then I should do something good for my body. Besides, endorphins are real.
  • I go for a walk, especially on a beautiful day like today–a late autumn day with golden light and a chill that requires a warm jacket. It’s peaceful.
  • I eat an entire bag of chips. Sometimes it’s Doritos, lately it’s Pirate’s Booty.
  • I used to eat chocolate, but I’ve been “off” chocolate for over a month now (resulting in weight loss, but that’s a different story). But you know–emergencies require chocolate.
  • I will email a good friend to tell her how awful I feel.
  • I will tweet my misery.
  • I will call writer friends to vent.
  • I will read a good book (right now I’m reading Victor LaValle’s Big Machine–it’s good!).
  • I will blog.
  • Sometimes, I drink. Today, I added some vodka and cointreau to my pineapple juice. I’d have added a splash of grenadine but I couldn’t get the bottle open, because it was glued shut with sugar. That kind of gives you an idea of how often I drink (rarely).
  • I’ll go see a movie, turn on the TV and veg out.
  • In the growing season, I’ll go putter in my vegetable garden.
  • And most recently, I’ve clung to this quote from Cormac McCarthy who in his WSJ interview said, “I’m not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn’t take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.”

In sum, rejection is like heartbreak. There is only so much you can do, like running and commiserating with friends, to stave off the devastation of heartbreak…but in the end, you have to let the devastation wash over you and run its course. The more in love you were, the greater the heartbreak. The more hope you had in a writing opportunity, the greater the impact of rejection.

Right now: I’m feeling the heartbreak. I’m making loved ones around me miserable. I’m miserable. If you’re not a writer, you won’t understand what it is I’m going through. If you’re a writer, then you, unfortunately, understand.



Filed under Writing

21 responses to “Rejected

  1. Jade, I’m curious to know why this week has been especially tough. (I, too, btw, am reading Big Machine, although taking way too long to get through it.) I think you should self-publish your rejected stories someplace like Get them out there! Don’t bury them. Or self-publish a book of ALL your short stories. How cool to have them all in one book, with your name on it. I bet it would feel really empowering. Even if it’s just for your friends and family. At the same time, don’t give up! Keep writing more, and keep submitting them. You are a great writer and will get them published eventually!

  2. I don’t tend to retire things – even after they’ve been met with constant rejection. I simply scavenge the usable parts and start over.
    I love your list for dealing with rejection.

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  4. Oh I love this! I have a very hard time retiring my work, which is the source of my ire tonight. When you posted a link to this article, tonight, on Twitter, I thought it was perfectly timed. It came at the right moment for me. Not to devalue your frustration, but it’s nice to see that I’m not alone. Maybe it’s time for me to let go of a few of my tales that have gone kerplunk! And move on.

    McCarthy is right, I’ve been trying to force myself into short fiction writing, when it seems like it’s not my forte. And writing is blood, sweat and tears. It’s also personal. What writer doesn’t put heart and time into the tales they weave, whether fiction or non-fiction?

    I’m wonder why does it took an outsider to tell me what I already know?

    Anyway, good luck and I hope those rejections dwindle to nothing. It will be my turn soon and I hopefully I can find ways to push through those days without totally self-destructing.

  5. It probably sounds odd to someone who isn’t an artist but those feelings of utter worthlessness or even suicide are not uncommon. I can certainly relate.

    You’ve got a great list. I love reading a book whenever I’m down about my own writing. It’s inspiring, as is this post. Keep writing! You’ve got many stories to tell, to sell. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Yes, yes, yes to all of this.

    “I eat an entire bag of chips. Sometimes itโ€™s Doritos, lately itโ€™s Pirateโ€™s Booty. ”

    Have you tried Kettle Chips? Those can be heaven. The thick kind, with deep ridges, have an especially satisfying crunch.

    I’m just starting the rejection journey. It sucks and its hard. But the alternative wasn’t better. This is only sometimes comforting. Like, here’s situation A (not submitting) and it sucks. Here’s situation B (are submitting) and it sucks, plus at any point you can receive e-mails reminding you that it sucks.

    …Wait, what am I doing?

    Oh, the bluebird. g-d bluebird.

    But great post, and eloquent thoughts.

  7. Well said. I totally understand. I have been wrestling with these kind of thoughts recently too, especially, when to “retire” something. How do you know when enough is enough, it’s time to move on?

  8. Well said. I get it, girl, oh how I get it. I used to be able to do a whole bag of chips (Sun Chips were my go-to), now the prediabetes prevents that. Your other ways of helping yourself feel better are also on my list of “how to deal with a funk” habits. Don’t know if it’s worth anything, but I think feeling and dealing with rejection up front are healthy things. Better than pushing it aside and pretending it doesn’t hurt. It can come back and rot your motivation from the inside out otherwise, and it’s much harder to deal with then.

    Kudos to you for putting your stuff out there. I’m working toward that — haven’t sent anything in years because I’m going through a serious voice shift, not comfortable with what’s on the page yet, but it’ll happen.

  9. Thanks for the list, but also thanks for saying this so eloquently. I think you’re right, by the way: we love what we love and if it breaks your heart, well, what can you do? Which is where the list comes in. xo

  10. anonwupfan

    Screw ’em! Your standard is the only one that matters. Imagine if every word you wrote were in the New Yorker (Kenyon Review, etc. –pick your grail pub). That would be a great thing for your self esteem now, but probably really embarrassing sooner or later–like marrying every person that you have been “in love” with. So, as in love, you cope and move on. And hey, at least you’ll never have to worry about bumping into an old unpublished short story in some awkward situation!

    And JP, Doritios are an abomination–PLZ, it is killing us to hear about you doing that to yourself!!! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. That is an excellent list, Jade.

    I feel somewhat differently. Over time, I actually begin to feel great relief that my rejected stories were rejected. Because I realize that I would probably reject them, too. I actually feel much WORSE now about stories that WERE published that I am now embarrassed to admit that I wrote. (what were those editors thinking???) Right now, I feel happier that my rejected stories are in a drawer (or on my hard drive) than out There. I have a very few (unpublished) stories that I still feel proud to put my name on, and they also need more work, I know, before they are ready for prime time.

    But I know that you have some damn good stories. I hope somebody out there sees the light soon.

    • Bustopher: i’ll email you offline

      Cassandra Jade: that is a good and constructive approach. i know one successful/Famous Writer who does the same, she scavenges her stories and starts them over.

      Noel: good luck to you, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Stephanie: thank you for your encouragement and support–you keep going, too.

      margosita: kettle chips not cheesy enough. cheeeeese.

      elizabeth: for me, it’s like putting a pet to sleep. hard to let go. maybe–never let go?

      Contemporary troubador: thank you

      bloglily: ๐Ÿ™‚

      anonwupfan: don’t worry–i haven’t touched Doritos in at least a year. i’ve been, actually (and this isn’t as dramatic) gorging on persimmons and lamb chopper cheese from cypress grove.

      Susan: you are so Zen–but i know you have had some excellent stories out there, so i’m glad you do put your work out there.

  12. CZ/JP,

    Girl, I totally feel you. From someone who has gotten MORE than 450 rejections in the past 5 years, I know exactly how you feel.

    Here are my own personal strategies for dealing with rejection, if it’s of any use:

    1. You can make it a numbers game by just always keeping your stories in consideration (by submitting it again and again). Every 3-4 weeks, just send out some manuscripts to journals. If one of your stories gets rejected but you’ll still waiting to hear from 1-2 other journals, you won’t care that much. So, keep sending your pet story out so that it’s always under consideration. That will give you hope. Real hopelessness is when you give up submitting a story.

    2. This is one thing I do: if one of my pieces gets rejected a lot, eventually I take a look + I can ALWAYS find little mechanical things to improve, which usually gives me hope that my revisions might be the difference (and maybe a few of those editors have a point).

    3. Once one of my stories has gotten rejected around 30 times (+ I have TONS of those), eventually, I revise it enough + then I change the title. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

    4. Curse a lot. It helps. Right now, my only response when I get a rejection letter is: fuck you! You’re idiots! You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. You have to think of yourself as a great secret that is just waiting to be discovered. You know what’s up, now you’re just waiting for them to figure it out.

    5. Remember that a lot of fiction readers for university-affiliated journals are MFA students, the majority of whom haven’t published shit. I mean, what do THEY know about publishability? Seriously. Also, we’ve all worked on lit journals + there’s an incentive to reject because otherwise you have to keep reading the story + when you have a pile of manuscripts to finish reading before you can grade papers or get to your own shit, unfortunately, it’s not a fair fight.

    6. There are some great online journals that are totally respected, publish internationally known authors + most importantly, will be read by 1,000’s more readers than print journals. If you haven’t, check out 3:am Magazine, Identity Theory, Fail better, Narrative and Electric Literature (That pays close to a 1,000 bucks).

    7. One easy way to keep your stories in circulation is to take advantage of the proliferation of online submission managers for great literary journals. AGNI, Boston Review, 9th Letter, Tin House, The New Yorker, VQR, Massachusetts Review, One Story, IR, Missouri Review +Quarterly West, to name just a few, all accept online submissions so you don’t even have to leave your house.

    8. Honestly, I feel like the big difference between successful literary writers and unsuccessful ones (besides talent, luck + connections) is just perseverance. There are a lot of talented writers that don’t have the thick skin to deal with this industry + they end up quitting. One of the reasons that some stories in journals aren’t that amazing is because those writers refused to give up, even if they had less talent than others that threw in the white towel.

    9. You can do this!

    10. We have to remember not to confuse getting published with vocation. You’re ALREADY a gifted fiction writer. You’re just waiting for the rest of the world to figure that out!



  13. I have three stories I thought I’d “finished”โ€”sent them out, got a pile of rejections, and now I’ve just let them go. I don’t really have the time/ energy/ motivation to revise them, so I guess they are retired. What DO we do with them? I like the idea of some kind of ceremony.

    I know how hard rejection is, and I’m just so glad to hear you haven’t given up. I’d tell you don’t ever give up because you’re so talented, but I have a feeling you wouldn’t give up even no matter what. I think in your gut you know.

    And I feel like what you wrote is so very true: “The more hope you had in a writing opportunity, the greater the impact of rejection.” I hope your hurt passes quickly. Wish I were there to say this and more in person.

    • Nova, you are one of my most supportive writing friends, and I treasure you. I wish it could be as easy as just giving up–but giving up would make me feel MORE miserable than trudging on through the wilderness. So I go on, in quasi-misery. ๐Ÿ˜› And am thankful for friends like you.

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  16. It does seem a sad but necessary irony that an ‘artist’s’ creativity is often bound up with insecurity and a terrible fear of rejection. I think it is at least partially due to the fact that you expose yourself through your work and you feel that people are judging you a ‘failure’ when they choose not to publish a story/poem etc. At least you don’t drink heavily/use drugs, there is obviously a prolific and morose history of rejection consuming the artist completely – good to see you have coping strategies in place. Interesting subject and well written too.

  17. Ha, we have a word in SF circles for “retired” stories: we call them “trunked” stories, meaning, they go into a trunk to gather dust.

    One thing you can do is save them, and once you achieve enough sales and reputation increase, trunked stories can be sold — if they’re good enough, or can be whipped into shape.

    (I did some minor editing of one and sold it, not long ago. Of course, I avoided the whole issue by not submitting anything until a few years ago. Some of the stories that *would* have been rejected many times, I ended up digging out and rewriting completely, and subsequently selling. Some, though, I daren’t even look at, such a mess they were. I doubt that applies to your more recent work, so I’d trunk ’em and wait for the tides to change.)

    I like your list too. I think the skin gets thicker; though a “No thanks” is always a disappointment, it may get to the point where you don’t feel a need to do anything specific to face the rejection.

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