Friday, October 9, 2009

Story Rejections and Self-Esteem

All of this will be redundant to most aspiring writers. But it serves as a useful reminder to me, so that may be justification enough for putting it down here :-)

I received a story rejection today and it got me to thinking about the connection between "rejections" and self-esteem in writing.

So what is the connection? It would seem obvious that receiving a rejection is a discouraging thing. After all, in nearly every other field of professional endeavor, being turned down is a measure of lack of success, or lack of success in reaching a particular goal or standard.

Does this apply to submitting short stories?

Nope. First off, I shouldn't even worry about how Good a story I wrote is in some objective sense, because there's no way for me to know (as I remain trapped in the double subjectivity of first being me and second being the me who wrote it). So I have no access to the "real" quality of the piece -- which is, at best, consensus-based anyway. The acceptance or rejection may be indicative of whether the story has achieved a certain consensus quality, but market variability is a factor too. So I can't get far down this road.

What should I worry about, then? I should write the best damn story that I am capable of at the time of composition – and this I shall define as my level of Good. Now, discipline alone almost guarantees that my level of Good will increase over time. (And I have more than discipline on my side. I'm not merely repeating a task here, but actively seeking to better it, by studying it, practicing it, receiving guidance etc.) At some point, my level of Good will coincide with or exceed the level of consensus Good being sought by a particular market I've submitted to. (I've already demonstrably crossed this transition, by going from unpublished to non-pro published). Now, no matter how Good my stories get, it will never guarantee a short fiction sale. Even Top Pros occasionally get rejected by some markets when they compose unsolicited stories (and even stories they've been asked for, though more rarely – but then they get asked less often, if that's the case).

Therefore, all of this means that having a story rejected is not logically connected to professional discouragement, as it doesn't indicate any inherent lack of success. It seems unintuitive, but really there is no link between a story rejection and my self-esteem as a writer.

In addition, consider this – by the time I get a response from a Pro market to a story I should have written so many new stories I probably won't even remember it! (If I'm eagerly "waiting" for a response, it's an indication I'm not writing and submitting enough. Waiting is to writing as oil is to water – it just sits and floats over the surface of what you're trying to accomplish, and it never gets you to the bottom of things.)

I look before me, to the Pros who write and sell stories and write and sell stories and write more and sell more stories, and I'm constantly inspired by their hard work and the fruit of their labor.

I'm thinking to myself, suppose I write 100 new stories.

Is there any way to tell, in advance, how many I'll sell? No. It's a useless question to speculate about.

But I'm curious about the answer. I need to know! How can I find out?

There's only one way. I'll sit down and write 100 new stories and send them out.

And as each rejection comes in I'll smile, file it away, and continue enjoying myself by writing new stories.

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