I got two rejections today. One was mostly anonymous, thanking me for my piece but saying the publication couldn’t use it. The other praised my story idea but commented that the editor didn’t think my writing was up to the task.
This hurts. A lot. For the next few hours I am going to doubt myself – my writing ability, my worth in the world, my decision to be a writer. But then I am going to forget these rejections and move on. I am not even going to store them in the back of my head where I can revisit them occasionally. I have to do this. It is the only way I can continue.
Yesterday, after I had sent off one of the pieces, I felt exuberant. I was proud of myself for writing it, sacrificing part of my weekend to craft a short essay on the 1862 floods that devastated Los Angeles. Since southern California has been inundated with water this month, I though I could place an article about a time that few people knew about. It’s information I stumbled on as part of my research on a book about early California. But the newspaper didn’t want my essay and it could have been for a number of reasons – they had run enough articles on the rains and floods; it was personal rather than analytical; it was boring. I can’t know. I just got a no.
A writer named Jim Morrison recently commented on the need for writers to accept rejection. It is from the subscription-only site, Writer L, so I will excerpt it here:
“A couple of years ago, I was having a drink at a party with a good friend of mine, a writer with a decade-long track record at places like GQ, Rolling Stone and other major magazines. Someone sidled up, introduced herself and -- as people always do in New York -- asked us what we did. We told her we were magazine writers. Well, she wondered, what was the most important talent for someone in the business? Neither of us hesitated. Almost in unison, we answered: "Accepting rejection and moving on." The line must have seemed scripted. It wasn't. To me, the most important skill a magazine freelancer can hone is the ability to take being rejected -- or being ignored -- by an editor and move on, whether it's to offer that editor a new idea or that idea to another editor. There are those wonderful exceptions. My first New York Times assignment came during an initial phone call intended merely to check an editor's name. But I think freelancers underestimate the work necessary break into a good market and give up too easily. Remember, John McPhee suffered fifteen years of rejections before his byline appeared in The New Yorker. I've long been a contributor to American Way, American Airlines' inflight magazine. The good folks there have flown me all over the world -- Toronto, St. Lucia, Paris, London, San Francisco, Seattle, Phoenix -- on well more than 100 stories over the years, assignments earning a couple of hundred thousand dollars. An American Way editor assigned my first magazine story when I moved from newspapering to freelancing. He then rejected my next 11 ideas. I've often wondered what I'd be doing now if I hadn't sent that twelfth idea.”