rejection is something that artists of any kind are pretty much guaranteed to experience (unless you’re so talented you get accepted every time you submit something which I doubt has happened to even the most prolific of creators). rejection can hurt, especially when you’re not used to it.
part of what pushed me to finally write this essay was Taco Bell Quarterly’s post about what it means to get rejected. TBQ deserves a complete essay dedicated to how freaking cool they are, so I won’t go too in depth about them, but I will say that they’re an incredible magazine that actively breaks down barriers in the literary community, and for that I deeply admire them. in their essay, TBQ referred to rejection as a truly neutral interaction. while I like the thought of rejection neutrality, I would take it a step further (or like, to the side) and say that rejection can actually be a good thing. I agree that rejection is certainly not bad, and a rejection on its own could be seen as neutral — it’s the way you look at that rejection that can turn it from a neutral interaction to a chance for positive growth. I’ll be speaking more about how to reframe your thinking around rejection later.
rejection isn’t personal.
there are hundreds, thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of literary magazines and small presses and alternative media that accept submissions from artists and writers. there are also hundreds of thousands of people creating art and submitting it to these places. realistically, there just isn’t enough space for everyone, especially when publications have a limited amount of space and resources. while there are many publishers and presses that are composed of multiple teams of paid employees, far more are run by a single person, without a budget, in a basement, between shifts at a day job. not every lit mag is able to look over every piece they’re sent in their entirety, and even fewer are able to give personal rejections to every submission. there was a time when I would take a form rejection personally, and would take offence to them not giving my work the added time of a personalized rejection or comment on if they enjoyed my work. now, I realize now that a form rejection is not the editor lookin you in the face and saying “you’re not good enough for us” — instead, it’s more “you’re not the right fit for us.” that doesn’t mean your work isn’t good. it just means there’s a better home for it elsewhere, where the work will be appreciated. you shouldn’t want to settle for anything less for your art. your art deserves a home that treats it like the creative invention that it is.
a rejection does not negate the value of your work. a rejection does not mean your work is bad. it just means you have yet to find it the right home. to find that home, you might have to go through a lot of rejection, over and over and over again.
desensitizing yourself to rejection
the good news is that the more something happens, the easier it is for you to brush yourself off afterwards and continue moving forward. you learn to skate by first learning how to fall. you learn how to fall properly the more you do it. rejections are much the same: the more you experience them, the easier they are to take. you learn to take rejection the more you get rejected. with all this in mind, I implore you to lean into desensitizing yourself to rejection. how do you increase your exposure to rejection in order to desensitize yourself? you have to submit. submitting is yet another beast of its own that I’m sure I’ll get around to writing about soon enough, and I won’t go in depth about how to submit in this essay. however, submitting often provides a direct pipeline to desensitizing yourself to rejection. even better, I implore you to share your rejections with others. this is what I’ve done with my own rejections: I post them on my Instagram. I show people that I’m getting rejected and in that same movement I remind myself that rejection is common, that rejection is something that isn’t inherently bad. in fact, I’m of the belief that rejection is far from a bad thing.
rejection as a good thing
one of my biggest personal philosophies around rejection involves reframing rejection from a failure to a step towards success. you might not have made it all the way to publication, but you made it much further than you would have if you had never submitted in the first place. you faced rejection head-on and you survived. you added another rejection to your experience; you’ve built up the tiniest bit more resistance to rejection sensitivity. every rejection thickens your skin as a writer. a rejection in itself is neutral in that it informs you your work was not a fit for where you submitted it — and after that, you can choose to forget the rejection, or you can choose to learn from and appreciate it. to avoid looking it dead in the eye will only make rejection harder. everything we do is a step towards something. ignoring or internalizing or punishing yourself over a rejection is not going to make your writing better, or increase your chances of getting an acceptance down the line. know your worth, believe in yourself, and step towards success in the face of rejection. rejection is not a failure.
every rejection is a step forward, even when it doesn’t feel like it. in the words of the prophet Kelly Clarkson: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.