As I mentioned on Tuesday’s Author2Author with Joan Frank (an excellent conversation, by the way, if you happened to have missed it), I have recently changed my feelings about how best to cope with rejection letters. In the past, particularly in this space, I have offered a number of perspectives through which to view the rejection painlessly. For instance, a rejection letter is just someone sasying, “No, thank you.” Or, a rejection letter is information, a way of learning where your story belongs or does not belong. All of this is true, but all of it, I have decided, is ultimately irrelevant. The job of anyone submitting his work for acceptance is not to understand that the rejection itself means nothing, but that the pain we sometimes feel when we get a rejection means nothing.
I do not mean to suggest that the stories we tell ourselves at these times aren’t painful. Indeed they are. Who wants to hear, “I knew I wasn’t smart enough,” or, “I have no voice,” or, “The world isn’t ready to hear from me”? Always our stories are a variation on the theme: For reasons beyond my control, nothing I plant will grow. In this painful story, nothing we do or say means anything, for all choices lead to the same barren graveyard.
It’s a terrible story, it’s a frightening story, it’s a painful story, but it’s a meaningless story. Eventually, we will tire of telling it, or we will forget to tell it. And once we do we find ourselves again, that which waited for us to stop telling terrible stories, that which is curious and interested and wants to try something new. That part of us is uninterested in these lousy stories. That part of us only wants to do the next thing.
I may or may not know you, and I may or may not know the version of these terrible stories you like to tell when someone says, “No, thank you,” but I know you cannot tell this story forever. You are actually immune to the rejection letter, because you cannot be rejected. Only ideas are rejected, and you are larger than any idea. You are the one asking for ideas and offering them, the one writing them down, and the one forgetting them when the next more interesting one comes along.
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