“I don’t like green food.”
That’s me, age seven or so. This was my go-to excuse for avoiding peas, lettuce, cucumbers, celery, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts–especially Brussels sprouts. The only vegetables I’d eat were tomatoes, and I’ve just recently learned that they’re not even vegetables–they’re technically fruit. (I still don’t believe this.)
So, yeah. When I was a kid, I did not like vegetables.
As I grew older, though, I understood why my parents gave me the veggie treatment. They’re not the flashiest, sexiest food out there, they don’t leave you with the sugar-high of a chocolate chip cookie, but vegetables have the nutrients and nourishment everyone needs to stay healthy.
I received a rejection letter today. It was from an online magazine which I’d carefully selected, one that seemed to be a perfect landing place for the short story I was shopping. “Hundredfingers” is the name of that story. It’s only about 2,500 words, yet from first draft to last, I’d estimate I’ve spent over twenty hours on this piece.
Here’s a paraphrase of what I got in return:
Thank you for submitting to our magazine. Unfortunately, we won’t be publishing your piece. Thank you for your time, and we hope you submit again soon.
That was my rejection letter, which is essentially the same rejection letter every other magazine offers.
So, yeah. I do not like rejections.
But for writers, getting rejected really is like eating your vegetables. How else would you grow? How else would you become the thriving, successful writer you’ll be in ten years? Rejections might leave a bad taste in your mouth–but they’ll make you stronger than you’ve ever been.
When I was a senior in college, I thought I was going to be a pro writer in no time. I’d been writing a thousand words a day, I’d been getting excellent feedback on my creative work in class, and I had a short story that was the greatest thing since Sandkings (truth: it wasn’t that good).
I spent the next six months of my life shopping this story around. I went to all the big markets: F&SF, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex, Lightspeed. I was expecting a heavily-frosted layer cake from these magazines, one with the words “Congratulations, we’d love to publish you’re story!” written in blue icing.
I didn’t get a cake. I got brussels sprouts.
At first, I was devastated. I questioned whether I should be writing at all. Was I good enough? Did anyone but me care about my work? Why was I even doing this?
It took about six months for me to come to terms with my rejection, but when I did, I realized how awesome it really was. Because I actually looked back at my story, this time through a critical lens, and I found glaring hole after glaring hole. I fixed them, I gathered feedback from friends, family, and my Editor-in-Chief (my girlfriend), and I made changes. Big changes. I sent my story out again.
Three months later, I received an email. My short story had been accepted for publication.
Rejection is tough to swallow. It’s tough to spend hours and days of your life on a piece, to fall in love with your characters and pour over that one sentence that just doesn’t sound right. It’s so tough to work so hard, only to receive a generic rejection three months later.
But it’s necessary.
Because if you’re a writer, a real writer, all those rejections will only make you want it more. If all you ate was ice cream every day, it wouldn’t be much of a treat. Likewise, if every piece you wrote was published every time, you’d lose the fire you need to keep writing that next one. That better one.
So don’t stop eating your vegetables. Don’t stop getting rejected. I promise I’ll keep doing it as long as you do.
But not brussels sprouts. Never brussels sprouts.