It’s a reality of working in a creative field. When there is no rubric to determine good or bad, no boxes to check for pass or fail, acceptance is completely subjective and therefore rejection can be, and often is, frequent. The fact that all the greats were rejected numerous times before finding their acclaim provides moderate solace. And so, when I first began submitting writing to different competitions, publications, and agents, so began the letters of rejection. “Thank you very much for your submission, however…” In the vein of Stephen King (and several other authors, I have come to find), I began to place each of these letters on a hook next to my desk, the growing pile always encouraging me to keep going (stemming back to my lifelong desire to do things that people told me I couldn’t). And, although a second hook with acceptance letters now has a few pieces of paper hanging from it, I continue to work towards the day when that pile is thicker than the first. But, as any book, blog, or article on writing will tell you, rejection is part of the profession. And I’ve started to get used to it, each one feeling less and less like a personal injury. I get the letter, read the letter, take a moment to allow whatever feelings it causes wash over me, and then hang it up and move on. I would continue to write to push through and challenge the rejection. But I could always continue to write.
Recently, however, I faced a new type of “rejection” that stopped me in my tracks and halted my pen. And it wasn’t even a rejection of my writing. This rejection was different from all those in the past as I was the one doing the rejecting. Or, more specifically, my body was the one doing the rejecting. My husband and I had been trying for nearly a year when our “project” took hold. The second, blurry line on the plastic fortune-teller told us we had been “accepted”. Just to be sure, we checked again. No pink lines or blue crosses to be deciphered. This one stated it in bold printed letters. Pregnant. We jumped excitedly and whole-heartedly into our newly appointed roles of soon-to-be parents, deciding who to tell and when, planning how we would rearrange our home, and basking in the glow of our success. But, before it could come to fruition, our little project was rejected.
For a long time after this, I found myself stuck. Blown down by a rejection that I didn’t know how to handle. I couldn’t just keep going as I had done in the past. I felt lost and empty. Literally empty. And no matter how much support I had from those around me (my husband, who was equally hurt and saddened by this rejection while also trying to comfort me and rebuff my self-blame, and even those who had been through this and knew my pain), I truly felt alone. I couldn’t find the words to express this loneliness and so the page stayed blank. I felt useless getting nothing done but didn’t want to leave my safe space of home either. Any journey outside was similar to walking through a bookstore after getting a rejection from an agent or publisher. You failed at this, but look at all these people who succeeded. I couldn’t seem to see anything but people pushing strollers or sporting bulging bumps; continual reminders that everyone around me had gotten that much desired “acceptance”. Slowly but surely, as before, each of these sightings seemed to cause less personal injury and I could begin to move on.
It’s been some time, but I still don’t think I’ve truly recovered from this rejection. And, honestly, don’t know if I ever fully will. This isn’t something I can just rewrite and resubmit. It is a loss unlike anything I have experienced before. But the pain continues to, gradually, abate. Never reaching zero, but, hopefully getting near enough. Day by day, I find myself thinking a little bit less about that rejection. And soon, I hope I can hang it on its own hook. Never to be forgotten but allowing me to work towards a future success.
“It is my belief that the true artist is not one who suffers for his art, or for his audience, but rather, has suffered a great trauma in life, and is on a quest to heal.” – Paul Madonna, Close Enough for the Angels