The longer I talk with other writers and act as a writing coach,the more I’m convinced the first significant milestone in a successful freelance writing career is the first rejection letter or slip.
Most people who say they want to write never get this far; those who do and who keep writing after that first painful rejection are much more likely to go the distance and become successful.
That first rejection letter, and usually it is a pre-printed we’re sorry we can’t use… notice stuffed hastily in the SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope), sent with an over-the-transom article represents a lot of work.
It started with the idea, which, for new writers, is more often than not pretty unformed. That idea had to be honed so a target market can be found. Then the writer actually has to write either a query or the piece and get it in the mail!
Writing Isn’t Easy
Sitting down to a blank screen and filling it up with readable prose isn’t easy. There are all sorts of distractions. It’s so much easier to play a computer game, check email, or wash the dishes or clean the house.
Sitting alone at a computer is an ideal place for self-doubts of all kinds to appear. Fear or it’s disguise, a bid for something called perfection, have stopped many.
But nothing happens until we do sit down and write. The best idea for a story or a book in the world is just a thought until you actually put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard. Talking about it, creating rough drafts, starting then stopping before a piece is finished, giving up, are all traps. Successful freelancers have found a way to break through those traps and get the words down.
Then they’ve managed to deliver it.
Rejection Letters and Slips Are Badges of Courage
In truth, however, those first rejection slips are actually badges of courage. Think about it. To get a rejection slip you’ve actually completed many steps, including:
- The original idea
- Honing that idea
- Finding a target market or two
- Drafting the article
- Rewriting and editing, maybe many times
- Final copy
- Writing a cover letter (or deciding not to)
- Doing SASE
- Mailing everything
My suggestion is: post that rejection slip right on the wall – I did in the beginning, and now I wish I’d framed that first one.
Most Successful Authors Get Rejection Letters
Almost every successful writer has been rejected, often multiple times. In fact, Bill Henderson and Andre Bernard have actually compiled a wonderful selection of rejections in their book called Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections: A History of Insult, A Solace to Writers (Revised & Expanded) (Literary Companion Series). Included in the rejections they spell out are authors like Jane Austin, Irving Stone and even Dr. Seuss – his And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street was rejected with “It is too different from other juvenile books on the market to warrant it selling.”
Herman Melville, Anthony Trollope, Agatha Christie, HG Wells, Gustave Flaubert and Walt Whitman and even Anne Frank all had their writing rejected by publishers.
Yet somehow each one of these well-known writers, and many others, found a way to keep writing, and keep submitting. They were able to dig down deep into their own personal reserves and persist. And we are richer for their efforts.
So I say if you’re just getting started, work toward that first rejection letter. When it comes, celebrate it Frame it and hang it on the wall. It’s a badge of courage and an acknowledgment that you’ve passed the first milestone; you’re on your way.
You might enjoy the blog, Literary Rejections On Display, which has a collection of all sorts of rejections. In fact, you might want to submit your own.
Have you been rejected yet?
Write well and often,