One Down, 121 More To Go

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Well, one of the rejection letters I was looking for finally arrived. It wasn't a surprise at all. But to ease the blow, this gem showed up in my inbox the day before the rejection letter arrived.

It might sound like dwelling on the negative if I say I received 122 short story rejections before my first acceptance. But, for writers just starting out, it's important to hear. If you know I was rejected more than a thousand times while placing fifty stories, it might be hard for you to justify giving up after five printed slips. ~~ Catharine Ryan Hyde

Even counting all the submissions I did in grad school, I still have a lot more rejection slips to accumulate before I get to 122. And that's under the optimistic assumption that I could get published after only 122 rejections.

It's my wish that more successful authors would come forward about their rejections. Don't get me wrong. I think it's great that Michael Chabon sold his first novel at 23, but I'm not 23 anymore and I'm much more inspired by writers who endured round and round of rejection and kept on putting their stories out there.

The piece also reminds me of a quote from Michael Cunningham that appeared in The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers. The quote (and I'm paraphrasing as I'm too lazy to move my butt five feet to the bookshelf to look this up) is originally attributed to Marilyn Monroe and goes, "I wasn't the prettiest or the most talented, I simply wanted it more than anyone else. " Cunningham goes on to apply it to himself and writing, to the act of sitting down at a table daily even though it's difficult and you feel brain-dead and dull. You just have to keep on. You just have to want it more than anyone else.

Sometimes I think I'd be much better suited to being the first-timer that hits it big. (Wouldn't we all?) I'm worried that I don't have enough ambition to be the one who wants it bad enough. This worry mostly hits me on days when I've come to a point where I'm stuck or when I need to start something new and the more attractive option is to throw up my hands, turn on the television, and ensconce myself in a non-writing world. But I think if I were to give into that, I wouldn't be very happy.

So in the end, the one rejection hasn't gotten me down and knowing that there are hundreds more to go is actually kind of enlightening. It may take 121 more rejections. It may take 300. Maybe closer to 500 or a thousand. Who knows? As long as I keep writing, the possibility of being published, or having my work read is still out there. The only way to fail is to give up and I'm not ready for that yet.