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Performer Mayyadda singing at the University of Minnesota Juneteenth Celebration “We Are The Noise: The Echoes of Our Ancestors” captured on Saturday, June 15.
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Published June 23, 2024

Opinion: On rejection slips

A budding writer writes on how to deal with rejection from editors.
Image by Sarah Mai

“I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language,” wrote an unknown editor to the British poet Rudyard Kipling (who, by the way, won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907).

Rejection is something that most people detest and hate to go through. Still, as is always the case, there is a particular group whose entire dream and professional life is depended solely upon not having their works rejected. Among this group are writers.

Almost all writers throughout history have dealt with it in various ranges. It’s nearly impossible to believe a writer who says, “I’ve never had any of my writings rejected by editors/publishers.”

I mean, there are so many other ways to show off and boast about one’s great talent, and claiming that one has never gotten a rejection slip is certainly none of them. Why? Because unless you are publishing your own work, you will always come across editors whose literary taste is a mission impossible to satisfy.

As a matter of fact, some writers brag about the rejection slips they have received throughout their life because it was those slips that made them more determined to never drop their pen. 

Yet, if there weren’t always a handful of editors and publishers who would take the risk and publish the writings of a rising writer, then there would’ve never been a lot of novels, poems, etc.

The fear of publishing a not-best-selling book or unappealing/new poem is why some editors avoid publishing the work of amateurish writers. The financial ramifications of taking such a risk play a huge role when making such a decision. “Why should we take the risk?” they might wonder.

Every writer’s nightmare, be it a professional or aspiring one, is the rejection slip that gracefully (the irony!) might accompany their writings. This piece of paper (or you might get it online nowadays) could shatter the confidence of a professional, established writer –– let alone a young, unpublished one whose self-confidence is extremely susceptible. 

Perhaps, when one tells people about their dreams of becoming a writer, others rarely tell them about the rejection that they might and will encounter throughout their professional life. Yet, the question is why? Why not tell them, right off the bat, that if they don’t buckle up and prepare themselves to be flooded with rejection slips in their first years, they won’t be able to survive the storm? 

Suppose you tell this ambitious person, who has been dreaming of becoming a writer, about the rejection they will have to deal with. In that case, there is a considerable possibility that they might give up early in their career. Of course, this is just a possibility. Although almost everyone has heard about rejection slips, it feels very different when one gets it personally.

What’s so dangerous about having one’s work rejected is the self-doubt that inevitably follows it. Young writers are more prone than professional writers to experience self-doubt, and perhaps some of them, not being able to overcome it, quit and fold their dreams like a piece of paper.

Self-doubt is powerful enough to damage the literary confidence of any professional writer. Needless to say, at least, these writers have their achievements to help them bounce back when they face rejections. They have visible reminders (i.e., their printed works). 

But young writers feel shattered when they find out the harsh reality of the writing world. They still don’t have something to back them up and push them when all they want to do is step back and quit. 

Indeed, Sylvia Plath was very frank and straightforward when she said, “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” But why do some writers gravely suffer from self-doubt while others do not? 

Charles Bukowski had an amusing answer to this question (keep in mind that he was just sympathizing with those who couldn’t defeat self-doubt), “Bad writers tend to have self-confidence, while the good ones tend to have self-doubt.”

Perhaps it’s through rejection that rising writers realize the beauty of having their work accepted. It’s rather consoling to find out that many, if not all, famous writers had several of their writings rejected even after they established themselves as professionals. Maybe the possibility of having their work rejected keeps professional writers on edge and always striving to do better.

Take Marianne Moore, as an example. After working on translating the fables of La Fontaine for several years, her translation was returned by the new editor, who informed her that they would no longer sponsor this project (they asked her to start translating them), nor were they going to publish it. Just imagine the agony, disappointment and anger such a thing might inflict.

Imagine spending several years working on a project and then it gets cold-bloodedly rejected by some editors. Nevertheless, someone else published her translation (Perhaps the possibility of getting published is worth the suffering?).

Some other examples could be Plath, George Orwell, Kipling, and the list goes on and on.

“So, dear Snoopy,” Ray Bradbury wrote, urging young writers not to give up just because rejection slips are piling up before their eyes, “take heart from this. The blizzard doesn’t last forever; it just seems so.”

Rejection slips, if they indicate anything at all, are evidence that one is a writer.

Amina Hasan is a freshman at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

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