Quite a few years ago, when I first read Stephen King’s On Writing, I thought about how great it would be to have as many rejection slips as him, the ones he talks about collecting in a desk drawer. Submit a story, get a rejection, into the drawer it goes, out goes another submission.
Eventually, the story is published and you can look back at all the publications foolish enough to pass on it, and you can smile. Or, I suppose, you could dance, call the rejecters to gloat, or even get drunk and make the slips into some kind of papier-mâché obelisk or light them into a glorious ceremonial pyre. Don’t rule anything out, is what I’m saying.
The point is, the rejections King is referring to are not only battle scars—they’re ribbons of valor. They are proof that he is a writer: He writes, submits, edits, toils, weeps, hyperventilates, re-works, re-submits, all the things a good hard-working writer does. And yes, as part of that process, he gets rejected.
There’s a catch, though. That romanticized notion of getting turned down as an emblem of paying writerly dues only holds for a while, at least when you’re not Stephen King. We all know King got published, became famous, and was eventually able to look back fondly on all those early rejections.
For the struggling writer, though, there’s no bright ending to look back from.
Rejection hurts, at least a little bit. It needs to hurt, in fact. If it doesn’t, maybe the things you’re sending out into the world aren’t especially dear to you.