There are many reasons not to become
a writer. Among lack of discipline and
absence of talent--two things we could all agree upon—you should not become a
writer if you can’t take rejection. Harper
Lee once said, “I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that
before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.” And she
I have never met a writer (a good one) whose work was
universally loved and accepted by all.
Rejection is part of the job description. So brace yourself for it, know it’s coming,
and then when it hits you, you won’t be surprised or thrown off guard. Even best-selling authors have critics, and people who can’t
stand their work. We all know you can’t
I once kept a file of rejection letters, back when magazine
writing had nothing to do with electronic submissions. My favorites were the ones with misspellings
in them, including one such letter from The
New Yorker. My peers and I all joked
that someday we’d wallpaper a room with our rejection notes, but then one day I
realized I didn’t really mean that, and I threw them all out.
I came to realize that there are dozens of reasons why your
work might not be right for a publication, a publisher, or a producer. Maybe they just accepted something
similar. Maybe you didn’t do your
homework and have the right feel or tone they use. Maybe they need writers with more
credentials. Maybe they don’t get your
brand of humor. Maybe they had a fight
with their wife that morning and they don’t like anything today. Maybe your writing is too light and fluffy—or
too scholarly, and they have a readership to please. Maybe they’re idiots with no taste whatsoever
and only got this job because of their uncle. I could sit and do this all day,
and so could you. And, of course, maybe
your writing was the problem, and you need to polish
your craft and learn to rewrite.
But don’t let one letter—or one hundred letters—make you
quit, not if you feel driven to do this.
Choose more carefully targeted publishers or editors. Get training. Work harder. Believe in yourself.
My husband partnered with the late Dick Clark on several TV
projects, and enjoyed Dick’s vast collection of show biz memorabilia, which
decorated his impressive office. Among
the treasures was a note someone scrawled after seeing Barbra Streisand
audition. “Can’t act, can sing a little,”
it said. And the internet is filled with
stories of wildly successful books that were rejected repeatedly before they
found publishers. Never assume the other
person knows more than you do.
And, if you’re a teacher, an editor, or someone else on the
other side of the pitch, who’s in the position of giving rejections, I have
some advice for you, as well: Be
kind. We’re all just people.