So I’ve received my first rejection letter. Note that I said “first” and not “a” or “the”. This is an important distinction. Throughout the career of any writer, the reception of rejection letters is going to be commonplace, with a few notable exceptions for people who are lucky and talented enough to strike a hit with their first book.
Even though I knew it was going to happen and I knew it was coming, it still hurt. I’ve written or contributed to 14 different books that were all published and sitting on shelves in Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc. They were all technical books but they were published books nonetheless. As a result, I’m not particularly accustomed to people telling me they don’t want to publish my work.
This is where the courage part comes in. As soon as you open (either the physical envelope or the email) a letter containing a rejection, your brain starts doing all kinds of horrible things to you. It tells you that your story sucks, it tells you that you can’t write and that you have the writing skill of a four year old. Your brain will tell you that you should’ve given up before you started, why should you even bother if your stuff sucks and nobody wants to read it? Then, when your brain has thoroughly beaten you and you are on the ground bleeding and positive you don’t want to get back up, your brain then asks you the most dangerous question of all. Be careful – it’s a trick question:
Why do you want to be a writer?
This is where you will get tripped up. If you answer this question, then you might as well give up now and seriously not bother trying to write any longer. This is a trick question because you don’t want to be a writer, you are a writer. Whether your writing is good, whether you can get published, whether the only person who ever reads your writing is your dog – you are a writer and there is nothing you can do about it. It is in your DNA and your soul as surely as any other immutable part of your anatomy and who you are.
This is the suffering that all writers go through. A writer doesn’t come up with stories, he or she is plagued by them. The stories and scenes and characters and ideas come unbidden at random points throughout the day and they quite literally cannot function properly until they have vented those ideas; given them release and physical form on paper or computer. Whether a person ever writes a single word for publication is irrelevant to whether or not they are a writer.
And so, with my self esteem in the gutter, I open a new blank word processor document and start anew, knowing that I will continue to be rejected and knowing that there is nothing I can do about it. I don’t want to write, I must write. It is essential to my sanity and the completion of a story is a therapy that I can buy from no clinic. This is my curse and my gift: my brain is full of stories and these stories are screaming to be given form and it is my job, my responsibility to do just that.