On Rejection

I got a few rejections today. Rejection is something to get used if one is to try being a writer. Every time, I think of this passage from Confucius’s Analects:

“Do not be concerned that you lack an official position, but rather concern yourself with the means by which you might become established. Do not be concerned that no one has heard of you, but rather strive to become a person worthy of being known.” (Analects, 4.14)

It’s easy to get discouraged by rejection. It sucks to be told no – but it’s also just the daily lived reality if you want to be a writer. And I think it’s very easy to be concerned that one isn’t getting published, instead of focusing on the real thing that matters – having good thoughts and writing them down well. This is really hard, so it’s understandable to want to worry about the other thing. But it’s a mistake. We need to strive to write things worthy of being published. This is the only thing that matters. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to write a thing, it doesn’t matter if writing it is difficult, and it doesn’t matter if we succeed. You can only do your best.

Someone told me that their goal was to get 100 rejections each year. 100 rejections would mean they’d have submitted their writing widely, that they’d have written more, and in all likelihood that they’d have been published more. It’s true. Publishing a numbers game. It’s a skill too, but to a lesser degree. There comes a point at which your skill is good enough to get published – it can be extremely difficult to tell when this happens – and that improves your luck. But every writer gets rejected a lot. Some get to a point where they’re famous enough to stop getting rejected, and that must be nice.  Personally, I think aiming for a number of rejections is pretty masochistic.

I prefer to think of it in terms of my own acceptance rate. A thing is only really rejected when I reject it. It’s possible to realise a story or essay that one was initially excited about was actually not that great. Sometimes these things can be salvaged, and sometimes they end up in a graveyard in the depths of Google Drive.

Looking at things this way, my hit rate over the last few years has been pretty good. I’ve abandoned a handful of things, but the majority of things I write have found a home somewhere. It might just not be the first, or fifth, or tenth home I thought would be good for them. But even then, that’s all secondary. Publication, even fame, are no guarantees of having achieved the goal of writing something good. I just want to write, like, one good sentence.