Rejection and a Safety Net

I’ve heard for years that writing, as a profession, is essentially a test of will— an endurance race that rewards those who hang tough in the face of piles of rejection letters. I know two successful authors who amassed 100+ agent rejections before finding the right combination and striking it big, and I’ve read several accounts of famous authors persevering despite rejection. I don’t submit essays often compared to most professional writers I know, in part because I get too angsty about rejection (or even potential rejection). Last night, for the first time since getting a book contract, I submitted an essay to a contest. The emotions I felt were markedly different than those I felt before I had a book to my name.

Yes, I still got jumpy and nervous and an uncomfortable mix of sad-happy-excited-worried. No, I didn’t think I might have a better shot at acceptance and/or prizewinning now that I have a book contract. But I felt less heavy about the whole thing, less like so much was on the line for one submission to one contest. My book contract created a safety net of sorts, and as I clicked on the “submit” button at nearly the stroke of midnight, I felt more even-keeled than ever as I stared down potential (and likely) rejection.

My wife and I walked through the woods for a few miles today, and I recognized the sand under our feet as the same sand that was under them before I had a book deal. That sand has heard me lay my soul bare as I agonized over career choices, health problems, politics, and just about everything else in the world. Today, for the first time, I whispered to it that I have a book contract now, and that my book will be published soon, and that my ISBN was issued last week. Everything was the same, but not— the world still turned, the sand still got intensely hot from the sun, the box turtles still trudged through ant hills— but I was different.

I don’t have the exact words to explain how it feels to be an author, but as the reality of the whole thing slowly sets in, I can tell I’m different than I was pre-contract. Not cocky, not egotistical, not unrealistic, but definitely more secure and ready for the next step— even if the next step is rejection (shudder, sigh, deep breath, keep going). Also, if you haven’t read Stephen King’s book On Writing, drop everything and get your hands on it right now. You might find yourself inspired to hammer a spike into your wall for your rejection collection.

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