Over the past year, I’ve gotten two rejection letters for works I’ve submitted for publication. That is a laughable amount to anyone who is actually making it as a writer. (What does ‘making it’ even mean? Why did I decide that my life’s passion should be such a constant existential crisis? Thanks a lot, First Grade Self.)
Rejection suuuuuucks. Or it’s supposed to.
When I got my first rejection letter last year, it was for a children’s book (Which … what? Why? That’s never been what I wanted to write, but I was operating under the grip of a sudden realization that some action in approximately the right direction is better than inaction waiting for the precisely perfect direction.)
I. Was. Stoked.
“I’m a real writer!” I told my mom.
“Mmmm,” she said, which is the noise she makes when she is pointedly saying nothing.
But it was real. It was tangible evidence that I wrote a thing and I threw it out there for consideration. Sure, it didn’t go great, but this was a much bigger step forward than I’d taken in all of my last 37 years.
(Right, as if Baby Me should have been churning out romance novels or something, whatever. Also I guess her job was to learn how to read and write? So maybe Baby Me is pretty irritated at how little Adult Me is getting done.)
And more recently, I got another rejection letter. This one was a little more of a sting, partially because I was doing that super unhealthy thing where you’re hoping for money before it gets there, so you kind of bank on it arriving, and then it doesn’t and you’re like, what? Where’s the imaginary money that I had been counting on? And also because, instead of a cutesy story about a monster toddler that loves his mommy, this was a personal essay. Ha! Ironically, I’m just now realizing, about my unhealthy relationship with money. Whee!
But, man, if you’re going to get a rejection letter, I recommend getting it from Roxane Gay (Side note, that’s an affiliate link, meaning if you get all excitable about reading this amazing author and click this link to buy her stuff, I get a little bit of cash at no extra cost to you. You’ve been disclaimed!).
She is all about the no bullshit and admits outright that “putting yourself out there is scary as shit.” So even with the sting, I felt good, I felt brave.
Do you remember the Anastasia Krupnik books by Lois Lowry? (Affiliate link, again!)
Her dad was a writer for a living. Not just a writer, but a poet. He published several books of poetry. And that was his job. He didn’t upchuck an article a day on Medium or painstakingly fail at constructing a blog. I want to be a writer like that. Where you write, you revise, you submit, you resubmit, over and over until it sticks. The end. I want an office steeped in mahogany, with a door that shuts and little glasses to perch on the end of my nose. I want to type on a laptop, save the document, and close the lid, sighing my deep satisfaction with myself. (Apparently I want to be Stand By Me Richard Dreyfuss. I’m starting to see a pattern here: my dream is to be an imaginary old man.)
I have no delusions about writing the Great American novel. I don’t even need to be Stephen King, or Dean Koontz, or anyone else you’d recognize. I just want to type-y type, fix-y fix, pay my bills.
But instead I’ve spent the last several years convincing myself I need to be standing on some kind of stage, trying to convince other people that I’m wacky and cool and unique and you should totes read all my arts, bro. And in our current climate, the stage is the internet. Which just levels up the spectacle, influencer, self-promotion antics. Which makes me feel gross. It makes me feel like a super impostor.
Plus that’s not my heart’s dream. My heart’s dream is to mold people out of letters with my mad typing skills and get paid enough to feed my kids, take my husband to the movies, and maybe get a tattoo every now and then. Forward slash end dream.
So I guess the dream I’m trying to keep alive for myself, for my kids, for their kids, is that books are going to keep being forever. That the internet is going to flare and die like it’s been doing in little sunspots since the days of dial-up and AOL and angelfire and livejournal.
And, yeah, maybe Medium is going to send you (or me!) a few bucks, but when it all goes down, my dream is that we’re still going to have some cherished books that we pass down to our kids.
Lately catastrophe and apocalypse seem inevitable. And if that’s true and there’s not much we can do to dig our heels in and keep it from crashing, why waste precious time and energy pouring into anything that is less than what you’ve always dreamed?
Get out there and get rejected, man.