Rejection Letters, Pt II: Avoiding Stagnancy

Avoiding Stagnancy You’ve tried everything to get your writing published. You’ve accepted the rejection letter as part of the process and are using them as an excuse to be as creative and experimental as you want regardless of the consequences. After all, you have nothing to lose…

But when is enough enough? 

As I said in my last post, 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.

You have to know when to quit. I don’t mean quit writing. Lord, no. Don’t do that; it could be fatal! I mean move on to a different project, read something else, write something different, hang out with some new people, get more feedback from friends you trust, play Scrabble.

No one ever said writing isn’t a lot of work, isn’t hard. There’s enough people out there crazy enough to do it, and we’re two of them.

Barry Staw, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, says a creative person is someone “who can survive conformity pressures and be impervious to social pressure.” All well and good, but come on! If I used that motto for everything, I’d walk outside and try to drive on the wrong side of the road. Maybe charming, but I’d wind up dead pretty fast.

Conformity has its purpose. That’s why you send your manuscript to a publisher who is likely to be interested in your work based on similarities in other work they’ve published. That’s why established authors write stories for anthologies with specific themes.

Conformity vs creativity. Now you’re walking a tightrope and everyone’s confused, but there is a balance. The rejection letter could just mean the editor didn’t give your story time of day, but it could also be an indicator toward that balance.

Do your research and know where you’re sending your work. The best rejection letters I’ve ever gotten have been the ones that said, “No on this, but look at these stories we’ve published recently and you’ll get an idea of what we take.”

That’s empowering. It won’t happen every time. Usually all you get is radio silence, but when you get something more interesting, use it. Read those stories. Write something stylistically similar and send that in with crossed fingers. Yes, I’m saying break from your brilliant, but misunderstood ideas. You’ve done this long enough to know how you write and what works.

In a lot of ways, new writers have to build a resume of accepted works. As long as you’re proud of everything you publish, I say do what it takes and conform where you need to. This advise may run contrary to what you normally hear about creativity, but try this idea on next time you sit down to write a story: I’ve taken my risks; I’ve had my experiments that taught me things…what would happen if I tried a little conformity with my hard earned flare? Where would that lead?


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