I never knew what I was getting myself into when I submitted my first story online. It was years ago, and the publication was my university’s literary magazine. I don’t remember exactly what I was expecting, but I remember thinking my chances were high. I didn’t know how to react when I got the rejection letter. The emotions came so quickly: humiliation for thinking it would be easy; shame at what I ultimately believed was a “you are not good enough” letter. What was worse, I questioned myself intensely, and this began to affect my passion for writing. After consecutive rejections, those questions and doubts began to magnify. What was I doing wrong? And then I completely dropped out.
I couldn’t bring myself to pick up a pen. I let ideas blossom and dim in my mind, never writing them down, never exploring these new inspirations due to fear. I didn’t want to see another rejection email. To hide this embarrassment and shame, I told myself that I just needed time. In order to write, I needed to read the masters and learn the craft better. My confidence was dragging low, and this had never happened before. I had no idea how to get back up, and start writing.
It used to be so easy: get an idea, write it down, and let the words go. Yet, it wasn’t easy anymore. I had lost the initiative to even try. Life filled the gap quickly with academics, friends, the joys and heartaches of relationships, and of course, stories. But they weren’t my stories. A book can be a wonderful tool. They provide escape, they give us a chance to share in experiences we might never have. But they can also hurt us. During this period of my writer comatose, I would just read, and I couldn’t help but compare my skill to the words of the authors I admired. Surprisingly enough, I became jealous. Why couldn’t I shape sentences as stylish and fluid as Margaret Atwood, or J.D. Salinger? Why couldn’t I craft realms as fun and inviting as C.S. Lewis?
But this uncertainty is a part of the writing journey that must be overcome. It is so easy to give up, or to write but never aim higher than completion, withholding our words from the world. It takes time to write, and it takes time to write well. What saved me from my writing stupor, my lack of confidence, and my fear, was this revelation that it takes time. As we write, we are constantly honing our craft. We write, and rewrite, and experiment. There will be bad drafts, there will be stories that you will reread and shudder, wondering why you set up the plot in such a way. The best part about continuing, however, is the knowledge that you will keep improving. I can find stories in notebooks that I have written years ago, and I chuckle at the way I used to write.
Rejection is a part of the writer’s life. And it can be your friend if you chose to see it as such. Without it you won’t be challenged to grow. So don’t let your doubts keep you from your pencil, or pen, or keyboard. Keep going, keep writing.