Collect Rejections, Really?

Writing is a unique activity, in case you haven’t already noticed that. It’s not necessarily done in an office; oftentimes, in fact, it’s better done at home. It’s usually best done alone, but the writer who writes entirely in a solo vacuum is one who is destined to fail, I would argue. The process of writing a book is different for every writer; although there are principles and recommendations and  tools that many writers swear by, they tend–nay, even have—to be applied differently by every writer for every book. The fact that most fiction writers (like me) are driven to produce books, which can take years, blood, sweat, and tears, without so much as a promise that it will be published, or if published remunerated or recognized well, is both the definition of insanity and the crux of creativity to me. And that rejection is such a big part of the process.

I started writing fiction in earnest three years ago. Since then, I’ve written and revised one book, queried and pitched it fifty times, received a few requests for partials and fulls, and almost finished writing another book. I swear when I’m finished with this second book that I won’t write anymore; the fifty rejections I’ve received for my first book make me think that this is too hard. Yet, a book I greatly enjoyed, by an author I greatly esteem (Elana Johnson), was queried over 100 times before it was published. We’ve all heard the tales of J.K. Rowling’s multiple rejections for Harry Potter, and I cling to the fact that some of the works of Shannon Hale, one of my top ten favorite authors, were rejected multiple times. According to Elana, and others I’ve asked, I should keep querying my book (called Forced). Indeed, they say that I should embrace, even pursue the rejections as part of the process.

“Really?,” you say, as do I. “Surely, the fifty rejections are enough.” According to Kim Liao of Literary Hub, they are not. “Collect rejections,” she says, quoting a friend of hers. “Set rejection goals. I know someone who shoots for one hundred rejections in a year, because if you work that hard to get so many rejections, you’re sure to get a few acceptances, too.” Well, sure, and we all know that it only takes one real acceptance to make it all worthwhile. But how does one “collect rejections?” Unless one has the ego of a thousand Trumps (disclaimer: I am in no way praising or shaming our president-elect), is it possible to endure the cycles of self-doubt and castigation that are an inevitable part of the process?

“Yes,” say a surprising amount of sources, “and here are other reasons why and some possible how-to’s.” Liao paraphrases authors David Bales and Ted Orland as they tell the story of a ceramics class in which half of the students were asked to focus on producing a high quantity of work while the other half was asked to produce works of high quality. “For a grade at the end of the term, the ‘quantity’ group’s pottery would be weighed, and fifty pounds of pots would automatically get an A, whereas the ‘quality’ group only needed to turn in one—albeit perfect—piece. Surprisingly, the works of highest quality came from the group being graded on quantity, because they had continually practiced, churned out tons of work, and learned from their mistakes. The other half of the class spent most of the semester paralyzed by theorizing about perfection.”

So, we should pursue quantities of rejections, then, because it forces us to continually practice and learn? Well, okay. That makes sense too. But I’m not sure how many more form rejections saying “your work is not for me” I can take. Margaret Dilloway, a middle-grade fantasy author and guest poster for Writer’s Digest, says I should keep going, as she did, doing the following to overcome self-doubt:

  • phone a writing friend
  • spend time with a non-writing friend
  • serve others
  • make other art
  • spend time outside

To that list, Jordan Rosenfeld, another Writer’s Digest guest poster, adds that we should define exactly what we’re afraid of, exactly what composes our self-doubt, as a step to overcoming that fear.

“Have you done those things?” you ask. “Have they worked?” Actually, I have, especially the making of other art and the spending of time outside. They do wonders to replenish me both spiritually and creatively. I know what I’m afraid of–that even if I do ultimately get published by a Big Six publisher–whatever I publish will wallow in mediocrity and anonymity, and I’ll barely make any money. But I’m still writing. And enjoying the process. “Why?” you ask. “Are you crazy?”

And I answer: “Yes, yes I am. I’m embracing the craziness. It’s my kind of craziness. Join me in it, won’t you?”

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