Rejection Letters and the Creative Process, Pt. 1

The slush pileI write this from experience. If I had known how many rejection letters I’d receive before I started writing, would I have taken the plunge? Good question. I’m not sure, and I don’t really want to look back, but here’s a hypothesis I heard this week: multiple rejection letters may actually hone your creative skills.

Let’s get one thing out on the table and make it clear. Receiving rejection letters – doesn’t matter how many – doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. The odds are against you. Really against you.

At a panel discussion during this year’s Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, several authors and editors talked about the editing process beginning with the notorious slush pile. “The thing you have to understand is that the editor or reader is not looking for reasons to accept your work. He/she is looking for ways to reject it,” said one of the panelists who had been on both sides of that coin to a room full of small gasps.

“You see,” he continued, “the editor has a stack to go though, and it may be this high.” He raises his arm above his head. “Well, the journal only takes a few, and this poor editor has to get through all of these before end of the day.”

Add that to the possibilities that your story might not be what the journal is looking for, or the editor might have seen something like it recently, or the editor might just have a particular aversion to your story about whales for some reason.

You see? Odds.

Now how can that help with the creative process? A Slate article claims that many creative people are rejected for their ideas, and “The effect can liberate creative people from the need to fit in and allow them to pursue their interests.” Creativity sometimes takes a long time to find acceptance because journals and publishing houses avoid risk.

But you’re a writer. You’re taking risks by just sending your manuscript to another pair of eyes. The first rejection letter hurts like hell. The second one too, and on down. Most war veterans have scars, but that’s what makes them formidable – that they have those scars and they’re still here. Aside from finding out what works and what doesn’t, you can become less concerned about acceptance after a while and get down to writing what you want to create.

You have to experiment. No one will tell you how to do it because they can’t. Eventually those odds won’t be so daunting, but let’s be honest…it’ll always hurt.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe in creating art only for the artist, and if taking risks brings no results for a long time, what do you do? Rejection can be liberating, but only to a point. Past that point it leads to stagnancy.

I’ll look at where to go from here in part II.



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