Everyone wants to be loved. Everybody wants acceptance. Everybody wants to succeed. But if you are a writer, these three things – love, acceptance, and success – may at times be in very short supply.
Rejection, on the other hand, appears to be drawn from an inexhaustible well, one that keeps right on giving throughout a writer’s career. I have not yet reached the dizzy heights of three-book publishing deals and my titles on posters in Waterstones, but I am pretty sure that if I should ever get there, rejection will still be a significant part of my life. And it will still hurt.
Editors who don’t want your stories, critics and readers who write bad reviews, friends and family who think you’re nuts for even trying, peers who try to cut you down and undermine your achievements… These things are never okay. They are always going to cause you pain and frustration. Even the good and lovely things that happen cannot make up for the pain of being told you don’t cut it as a writer.
It hurts so much because what we write is personal. Stories come through us in revealing and strange ways. When you write something, it is like going on a journey (one which may take you to some sinister, frightening places), and bringing back this odd prize, this story. Now you hold it up to the light, trying to reflect its unusual beauty – and rejection is people telling you it wasn’t worth the effort.
I once read a review about one of my stories that was so scathing, so unkind, that it stopped me writing for months. It made me frightened to write anything else, scared that more scorn and bile would be poured over my creations, terrified that this person might be right. In retrospect, it’s easy to see that this critic had some kind of personal axe to grind, but at the time, I was deeply affected.
Ultimately, however, that guy did me a favour. Up until that point, I had been pretty lucky. I had heard mainly good things about my writing, and even the few rejections I’d experienced had been, at worst, neutral. Suddenly I was forced to look rejection in the face, and deal with it. It made me realise that I had to get tougher. Either I could wither under the scornful gaze of those who disliked my work, or I could say, ‘I don’t care,’ and carry on regardless. It took me a while, but eventually I chose to stop caring so much and to keep writing the things I wanted to write.
Rejection hurts, but at some point, you have to stop caring about it. It’s not that it doesn’t matter, but these days, rejection is something I don’t dwell on. The fact that you are getting rejections, bad reviews, jealous swipes from peers – these things can only happen because you are submitting stories, getting published and read, and causing people to take notice. Getting rejected means that you’re in the game, you’re playing – winning some, losing others, but you’re taking part. Even when it’s horrible, it’s still way better than being a spectator. Spectators may never get told they’re not good enough, but that’s only because they don’t have the courage to play.