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.