It’s easy to write stories — just type a bunch of words, and after a while you’ve got a story. What’s tougher is to show the stories to other people, tougher still to send them to editors whose professional mandate is to reject very nearly 100% of everything sent to them. That’s the deal you sign up for, though, if your goal is not only to write words but to form them into stories, and then to see the work published. You have to send the work out.
You have to detach a bit, remind yourself how long the odds are, especially for a new writer. Not only must the story be top-notch, it also needs to be the right fit at the right time. Even after moderating expectations, even if you’re the thickest-skinned, most confident individual, when a story comes back with a rejection form there’s still at least a twinge of disappointment.
Writers have to be self-assured, and full of the buzz of their own competence, in order to produce good work. The narrator needs to be able to proceed with that affirmative “Yes!” attitude underlying the putting of new words to the page. How best to reconcile these two things, then: the diminishment of self-esteem that occurs each time a submission comes back, and the upkeep of one’s own confidence in the face of repeated, frequent rejections?
My theory is that each rejection unavoidably represents a small chipping-away of the foundation of self-assurance. If the writer wants to keep going, to avoid ending up reduced to a self-loathing drunk who no longer writes a word – or worse, one of those writers who keeps writing but stops sending things out — the task is to reduce the damage. I try to help myself on two fronts.
First, I keep disappointment in perspective when a rejection comes back. I remind myself of all the usual stuff: It’s not personal. Plenty of great stories are rejected many times before finding a home or even winning awards. All my favorite writers accumulated many more rejections than I’ve yet seen. And so on.
Aside from trying to reduce the “damage” from each rejection by rationalization, though, I also spend time on the opposite effort. That is, rather than minimizing damage from the outside, I try to shore up confidence from the inside. Make goals, and keep track of progress toward them. This reminds me I’m doing all I can toward creating good work, and getting it out there. I also revisit earlier works I consider most successful periodically, to remind myself I know how to form a great story and write compelling words when I work a story through all the many drafts and revisions.
Every writer unavoidably faces knock-downs or disappointments. I try to keep my foundation strong by working hard, keeping track of forward progress, and occasionally pulling out one of my better final drafts and studying it. It can help to read interviews by writers who have made it, to take heart in their stories of struggle, of wallpapering their offices with rejection slips before finally breaking through. In many of life’s endeavors it’s enough just to work hard, but in some things such as the art of writing fiction, you have to not only work hard, but persist. That means making effort along the way to keep one’s morale propped up and avoid discouragement taking hold.