I write fiction.
“I thrive on rejection” is an example.
No one likes rejection. But with writing, like many ventures, when you cast off your canoe of dreams into the rough waters of the commercial world, your only certain companions are rejection and its cousins—unruly criticism and surly indifference. (“Meh.”) Not everyone will love your work. And not all of your work will be entirely lovable.
I’m now working on two somewhat weird novels. And today, coincidentally, is my birthday, one of those alarming speed limit change-of-decade numbers.
(It might be an even bigger number than the one on this sign.)
So I’m acutely aware that I don’t have forever to get my stories out into the world. And that when I finish either of those stories, I face the prospect of rejection.
Which is hard. As someone said, writing a novel is like telling a joke and then waiting two years to find out if it’s funny. Writing is a long unpaid internship, and each novel not under contract is something of a lottery ticket.
So here is my advice on rejection. It’s couched in terms of what we writers face, but you might find it echo in other places you seek acceptance, achievement, or connection. You know—rejection's hunting grounds.
First, don’t send your work out too soon. You should make it as good as you can before you hit send, and that includes workshopping it with critique partners, writing classmates, beta readers, and your writers’ group. If you don’t belong to that kind of network, take writing classes and join organizations to find other writers. Maggie Stiefvater even has a Google group to match up critique partners.
Second, keep getting better as a writer. Rejection isn’t failure. It’s part of the process of getting to acceptance, and your job is to put in the work: That means reading other writers, studying the craft, and—you know—actually writing. It also means listening to feedback.
Third, rejection is often temporary. There are more ways than ever for authors to find an audience. As Ray Bradbury said, “You only fail if you stop writing.” You can learn a lot more from setbacks than from success, but the tuition is high, and it’s often paid in rejection.
There is an element of chance and lucky timing about publishing that you can’t control. But you do have control about some things: Whether you put in the work and whether you keep getting better. Make it hard for them to reject you.
Some books find an audience, as difficult as that is.
Some writers find a career.
And some of us find stories that sing to us, demanding to be told.
That, friends, is magic. Even more amazing, sometimes that magic—combined with persistence and putting in the work over time—can pay the rent.
Which is powerful magic indeed.
Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out now from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's and Jesse Andrews's .” Dean is on Twitter: @deangloster