“There’s a word for a writer who never gives up: published”—Joe Konrath
Chances are you’ve been there before.
Sitting in front of a very important email that’s teasing you on-screen, or across from a guy in a suit that costs more money than you’re unemployed tush can hope to make in a month, or on the very distant end of a I’m not interested text message that keeps flickering on your iPhone from a guy you swapped saliva with on a second date, who left you to believe (and blabber to all of your friends) that he may be the one.
It’s hideous, unfriendly, and usually has bad table manners. It’s called rejection.
When I was a young babe, I was painfully shy. To the point that if someone asked what my name was, I’d blush and hope there was an adult or one of those extroverted kids around to speak on my behalf. Why was I being shy? Was I scared of someone laughing at me when I spoke? No. Was I scared they’d make fun of my wacky style and bubble gum pink OshKosh B’Gosh overalls I wore for two years straight? Well, not really.
It must have been because I was terrified of rejection. Of putting myself out there or showing someone who I was, and then hearing the frightening two letter word of NO.
But it’s a word that none of us can escape and as I grew up, and started living, and loving, and becoming a nonfiction writer that publishes my most intimate details on the internet for all to criticize, I started viewing rejection as an acquaintance that seems to make its way and find you through a crowded street market or jammed pack subway. It will, without a doubt, come around, but it doesn’t have to stop you. It’ll even follow you when you pack your entire life up into two gigantic suitcases and move from the southern tip of Florida to the heart of New York City.
I watched my resume get placed gently in the shredder at companies like Google and AOL. Entertained heartbreak from boys that I had such a fantastic time dancing with underneath the stars on the Chelsea High Line one night who never spoke to me the next. And when I tried to get my landlord to not increase our rent by $200 a month, she just laughed in my face before she pointed her freshly manicured fingers toward the piercingly lit exit sign.
The best way to deal with rejection is:
1. Tell the person thank you. Bow out gracefully. Never leave tangled up on a wild fire rant about them being so horribly wrong.
2. Then, ask for an explanation so you can digest and understand why. This is how you’ll learn that rejection isn’t just about you, it’s not always personal. There’s usually another out of your control factor that tags along: timing, budgets, an ex-girlfriend that still monopolizes a chunk of their heart, real estate in NYC being so desirable.
Except when someone rejects you in love, leave. And never, ever, look back.
3. Put in three hours to do something to counteract that. Whenever a website told me they wouldn’t publish my work, I spent a few hours right after channeling that fuel to revamp my writing and send it elsewhere. I could have slammed my computer shut. I could have immaturely laughed and thought they made some kind of crazy mistake. I could have decided to be someone else. But then I’d be more miserable than I already was feeling. So why give up?
When I was a freshman in high school, I sent in a portfolio of my writing to apply for a spot as a writer for the Lions Pride school newspaper. But when the teacher posted the latest additions to the staff, my name was missing from the list. He told me, Jen, you’re just not a good writer. I suggest you try to do something else with your life.
I stood in front of him sucking back a fountain of tears that wanted to explode from my overly emotional teenage body. It had never really crossed my mind that you had to be so perfectly excellent at something you loved to have the chance to do it, to try it. And I realize now, after writing professionally for over 13 years, that you absolutely do not. To make it, you don’t need to be the best writer, or the most sensational singer. You need to shake hands with rejection and keep doing what you want, anyway.
When I got home from school that day, at age 14, I told my mom I didn’t want to be a writer anymore. And she sat me down, handed me a string cheese, and said:
Jennifer, come on. You know better than to let someone’s ‘NO’ force you to give up.
I shook my head.
The worst thing a person will ever tell you is no and I tell you no all the time. And you know what you do? You know what you always do when I tell you no?
No, I said.
You do what you want anyway.