Finding the Right Words: How Rejection Feels for a Writer - Murielle Müller

Once or twice a month, I sit down to submit to literary journals. It takes quite some time; every magazine has its own requirements regarding format, fonts, number of pieces, author bio length, submission portal, theme... and that is time invested on top of the time already invested in creating a poem, short story or essay. But we do it for the validation, right?

Days, weeks, months later, a push-notification on my phone tells me I’ve got an email from magazine XYZ. I open the email folder, my heart begins to beat faster as I click, and then I read the words: “We regret to inform you...”.

Resignation sets in and the rejections arrive in dribs and drabs.

Compartmentalisation begins.

Rejection bloody stings. You poured yourself into these words, wrote them from a place of heartfelt emotion, tried to to process a trauma, imagined an alternate life, and then someone deems your innermost feelings, ideas and observations not good enough, not worthy.

It’s unnerving, puzzling and confirms your greatest fears as a writer, especially when you are a young and aspiring writer. It tickles those lingering self-doubts: Am I not a real writer? Will I ever be one? Who am I to think someone might care about this? I’m not worthy. I’ll never get something published. Nobody cares, why should I care? Why make the effort? They’re right, this is rubbish, I’m rubbish, I should just leave it be.

Eventually, when you do receive that long-awaited Yes, it almost feels like they made a mistake. No way this acceptance stems from your progress as a writer. You begin to question the publication and their quality or justify it as some lucky accident because that early rejection is still the measuring device for your worth as a writer.

There is a stigma around rejection in the writing community. We don’t talk about our defeat. The acknowledgment that someone did not appreciate or care for the words which we, more often than not, crafted from our own emotions, would never enter our mind. If anything, we brush it off when it is brought up in conversation. But that little goblin of rejection inside our head laughs hysterically and keeps gnawing at our self-confidence.

However, rejection is a normal part of being a writer and that is a fact repeatedly swept under the table because, deep down, we all want to adhere to the romanticised idea of being a writer. We wish to be the protagonist in a story of overnight success and in which the novel written in one sitting suddenly conquers the literary world. And it hurts when we realise that the chance for this to happen is infinitesimal, and we might have to put a lot more effort into getting published.

Doubts cloud the vision. Negativity compresses creativity, puts a heavy weight on it. So if we don’t learn to manage our emotions when our texts are rejected, it can become toxic for our creativity and our progress. It can diminish the effort we put into our writing, wreck our motivation and send us into a vortex of repudiation.

However, there's a very fruitful truth: most writers thrive on pain.

That’s the perverse thing about rejection. It’s there to transform us, improve us, animate us, to be talked and written about– it’s there to be rejected.

To ease your pain and break the silence, you can share lines of your writing that never saw the daylight of publication and submit them to the Redefine Rejection Project on our website.

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