Thriving on Rejection
If I have to introduce myself to someone, I call myself an aspiring writer. Never a full-fledged writer — whatever that means. I’ve always hidden behind the adjective aspiring. How can I not, when all the stories I’ve written have never been published? Yes, the internet is littered with blogs and articles written by me (like this one), but I want what every other writer secretly hopes of achieving — his words in print.
A little more than two years have passed since I started on this journey of writing. In all this time, I’ve written several short stories, and if I dive deep into my notebooks, I’m sure to find a novel or two (or three). Although I have written much, I can’t call myself a writer. I don’t know how that mantle is bestowed upon a person. I’m not ready for it yet.
I send out most of the short stories after some vigorous editing. If you’ve been following me, you’ll know I write everything by hand, and later bring it to the virtual screen. Once they are ready to be shared, I send them to various journals — print and online, paying and non-paying, known and some unknown. When I click the submit button I do a ‘hope-they-accept-my-story-this-time-maybe-this-dance-will-appease-the-gods’ dance but to no avail. Every story I’ve sent out has returned with a note saying:
“Thank you for giving us a chance to read your story, but we regret to inform you that we must pass. It is not quite what we were looking for.”
Or some variation thereof.
Stephen King says he stuck all his rejection letters he received above his typewriter. I have a similar list of all my rejections pinned above my writing table. The number has only kept increasing.
By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing. -Stephen King
Last evening, I received another rejection. This one was from a print journal that publishes stories in the fantasy genre, one I really like. And as my stories do tend to go down the route of the fantastic, it is natural I submit my stories to them. This was for the second story I had submitted to them. A previously submitted story had yielded a rejection, but with feedback stating what they liked about the story and what didn’t work for them. Suffice to say, that softened the blow.
After a cup of coffee, I was wired to sit and do some work, when the fated email arrived. You’d think handling rejection would be easy by now, but it never gets easier. Each one stings. I read it and my shoulders slumped, my caffeinated brain grew lethargic and all I wanted to do was lie in bed, hug my pillow and stay. I spent the entire evening like a zombie doing what I had to do mechanically, all the while at the back of my brain I kept reciting the words:
“Though the plot was thought-provoking, the ending was too predictable.”
Now, without telling you the story, I’ll tell you that my character dies at the end. It was eventual, and as I wrote the story, I didn’t see any other way. He had to die. So he did. I was having imaginary arguments with the editors: That is the way it has to be, you saw it coming, right? So did I! What else can you expect?
I was being stubborn — a great failing of mine. I couldn’t accept the feedback. I got defensive. I couldn’t sleep that night, staying awake, pondering over it. The story was good, how can they not accept it?
As is the case with late night ruminations, the aspiring writer in me awoke, and started asking questions; not to me, not to the editors, but to the story.
What if he had lived? What would he say?
With a jolt, I got off the bed and hurried to my desk. The words were there, and they came pouring out of my pen. My story expanded before my eyes. The character was alive and kicking (Well, not kicking. He didn’t have a soul so he was kinda…desolate). He told me things and I listened and scribbled them down. This was it, he doesn’t die, the story continues. I wrote it till it reached its natural end.
Sometimes it takes a negative comment to bring about a positive change.
I’m not yet a published writer, but the stories I write are better because of it. One day, they might go out into the world, and for that, I need these rejections to prepare them to the best of my abilities.
Akshay G. is an aspiring writer who believes that the sword is mightier than the pen, only if said sword is created using a pen. His greatest fear is that one day all the pigeons in the world will band together and poop on him.