I can’t tell you the number of rejection slips I’ve gotten over the years, but at this point it has to be in the hundreds, maybe even thousands. It’s one of those parts of the business that happens no matter how seasoned you are, or how new you are to the craft. You have to have thick skin if you ever want to be successful as an artist or a creator.
After receiving the Emerging Artist Grant I started to feel invincible. Afterall, this was a huge win for me as a writer, and I didn’t expect to get it when I applied. Especially with a talented and crowded field of other visual artists, I figured there was no way I would be in the running. But, I remember watching the announcement as they graded my work, and I felt overwhelmed with happiness. My wife and I sat on the couch and talked about what a great moment it was. I busted open my good scotch and we toasted to no more struggling as a writer. I made it! The hard times were over.
Now, just a few months later from my biggest artistic dub of all time, I’m still getting rejection slips. I just recently was rejected from a residency at Hambidge, something I desperately wanted to do over my summer break. After a year of teaching students, I look forward to a break as much as the kids, and two weeks in an isolated cabin with no internet connection was a much needed reset after such a wild year.
But here I am. Still getting rejected from magazines and journals and now even residencies.
In times like this, I like to think back to Stephen King. He famously had a nail on the wall that he used to hammer his rejection slips on. Eventually, he got so many that it couldn’t support them any longer and hundreds of rejection letters fell onto the floor. He said he replaced the nail with a spike and kept writing. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter was rejected by a dozen publishing houses. Hemingway though has my favorite rejection quote:
“When you get a printed form attached to a story you wrote and worked on very hard and believed in, that printed rejection slip is hard to take on an empty stomach. ‘Dear sir: We regret to tell you that your submission does not meet our editorial needs.’ Well, f*** it. I regret to tell you that your rejection slip does not meet MY editorial needs.”
Even after the recent success, the rejection letters can sting. The editor of the magazine doesn’t care about the grants you won, or the awards you’ve been given. The only thing that matters to them is putting together good stories. Now the rejection letters make me pour a glass of bad wine, laugh at how good I thought the writing was, and only try to do better. What am I gonna do? Quit?