On Sunday morning, post-tea, post-meditation, post-yoga (I know, I am slightly insufferable) I decided it would be a good idea to check my email. Not my work email, of course, I’m pretty good at leaving work at work on weekends, but I opened my little Gmail app and what was waiting there for me amongst the dozens of Sephora Rouge deals and the Old Navy offers (they both need to take several steps all the way back, honestly) was a rejection email.
I mean, I didn’t know it was a rejection until I opened it, but I eagerly clicked on the message and got the news.
A month or so ago I had submitted a story to a publication, something I had done on a whim part way through a Friday evening post-work glass of wine while waiting for the pizza to arrive. I actually said, out loud, to no one but myself, “What the hell, here goes nothing!” as I clicked the submit button. And then it was done.
And I should mention that this was my very first submission to something that was not a writing contest, so it was exciting! I had done it! Then, on a lovely Sunday morning several weeks later, my very first non-contest writing rejection hit the ol’ inbox. And maybe because I was in a relaxed state (see above for post-yoga, etc.) I actually smiled as I read it.
It was a lovely rejection, as rejections go; very encouraging, very thoughtful, and I was quite touched. Flattered, even. But then, from the dark area of my brain, the spoiler of good moods, the killer of happiness, came these thoughts: It’s just a form letter, they send this to everyone, they don’t really mean those nice things, there is absolutely no way they truly want you to submit again, etc. etc.
My dark brain can be quite persuasive. Destructive. But this time, I was ready for it.
What if, I told my brain, this truly is a heartfelt email? What if I believed that they had considered my submission very carefully, that they really meant it when they said that I should submit to them again in the near future? And, in the meantime, that I should also definitely look into other places to submit this particular work? What would happen?
And so, instead of cringing, instead of fretting and stewing over the fact that I had submitted the absolute worst piece of garbage writing this publication had ever seen, I chose to celebrate the rejection. I chose to believe that my piece was good, and even if this was a form letter, it didn’t matter. Because at least I had done it. I had sent something out into the world and much like the old quote about missing 100% of the shots you don’t take, I’ve chosen to view this in the same kind of light. Your work can’t be rejected if you never submit anything. And, related to that, your work also cannot be accepted if you never submit anything.
I’ve participated in a lot of writing courses and workshops, and I’ve read and listened to the wise words of published authors when they are asked if they have advice for new or emerging writers. So often I’ve heard them say “Submit. Submit, submit, submit! Submit early, submit often!” or some other version of this sentiment, and I nod sagely and I write that down, and then…I don’t do the exact thing they just said to do. And why is that?
In large part it’s thanks to the aforementioned dark brain, the main reason I can’t have nice things. It’s that fear of looking silly, fear of sending something out that isn’t absolutely perfect, fear of rejection.
But I’m working on it. And I don’t know whether it’s being in therapy for the first time in my life and learning to be kinder to myself, or if it’s being 53 and thinking, as I did on that Friday night in February, “What the hell?” Or maybe it’s that the pandemic has emboldened me, has given me a sense that it’s now or never, and you know what, it shouldn’t be never, so it needs to be now.
Whatever it is? I’ll take it. I did this one hard thing and I can do it again. And I’ll look forward to celebrating many more rejections until perhaps – no, not perhaps – until definitely, one day in the future, the not-so-distant future, I’ll be celebrating an acceptance.