Keep your rejection letters
Updated: Oct 10
Every writer's journey is different, but at some point everyone receives their first rejection letter. For many it's a crushing experience, but a necessary one to help get better. I've always kept mine, and now looking back I think they have a lot to tell me about how my writing has evolved over time and in a way bring me a small amount of happiness.
I got my first rejection letter when I was 11 for a story that I submitted to the magazine Highlight for Children. I remember being very excited about the idea of my story being in a real magazine, and naively thought that in the next month's issue I'd see it in print. Instead a few weeks later I got a very kindly worded rejection letter. At the time I didn't really know what that meant other than the story wasn't going to be in the next issue. Then like any other kid I went outside to play and pretty quickly forgot about the whole thing. Thankfully, my parents thought the rejection letter was important enough to keep and I still have it today.
My rejection letters came with much more regularity when I was in high school and increasingly serious about getting a fantasy story published. It was the mid-90's and at that time submissions were still hard copy and required a self-addressed stamped envelope for any correspondence. Without fail, a couple weeks after I'd sent out a story there would be an envelope with my handwriting sent back. All of these were short form rejections, which by then I knew meant that it was just one more mediocre (or worse) story never to be published from the slush pile. Those rejections hurt more because I fully realized just how much of an uphill battle it was going to be to get a story in a magazine. As the rejections piled up, the dream of getting a story published started to seem increasingly hazier. Finally, outside pressures (namely focusing on my university studies) pushed my publishing ambitions further and further back until it wasn't something that I thought about anymore.
Not long after the publication of my debut fantasy novel, which happened many, many years after my university days, I pulled out of my old writing binder that contains (among other things) all of my rejection letters. When I re-read the carefully neutral language of the form rejections, I actually found myself smiling. What those letters made me think about wasn't that I was a poor writer, but instead about all the ideas in those rejected stories that I thought were still exciting and interesting. It also made me realize that a few of those ideas has morphed over time into something that had sneaked into my book. And I think that might be the lesson I learned, that the rejection letters weren't necessarily of my ideas, but how I was communicating them. With time (and hopefully improving as a writer) I got something better to come out of it, so in a way I'm happier now that those stories didn't make it into print.
Not matter what, getting your work rejected feel bad, no question. However, my experience has taught me that with some patience you can still pull something of value out of an initial failure.
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