I got my first rejection from a literary magazine when I was fourteen. I submitted a poem based on the song “Oh My Darling, Clementine,” which had 11 numbered sections (I noticed that a lot of the poems in the New Yorker often had numbered sections and I was trying to emulate those poets) to ZYZZYVA, a literary magazine I deeply admired. At the time, I had many, many high hopes for that poem. I had written it specifically with ZYZZYVA in mind and I had spent weeks editing it and obsessing over word choice. With all the work I had put into this poem, I figured, how could they say no?
Well, three months later, I received the nicest rejection letter I’ve ever gotten from the Editor-in-Chief at the time, Howard Junker. It was a strange feeling to read it, because I was expecting to feel deflated, but when I read it, I actually felt a little happy and a little sad. I don’t remember exactly what it said (although I do have it glued in a scrapbook somewhere), but I remember that the last word was “Onwards!” And I thought, “What a great way to close a rejection letter!”
But, as I’ve learned, it’s actually really hard to say “Onwards!” to yourself after you get rejected. Since then, I’ve gotten many more rejections and a few acceptances, but I’m still not really great at “bouncing back” after getting a rejection. It’s hard for me to start sending out more work out afterwards. I often wish that I could submit to all my favorite lit mags with wild abandon all day err day, like some writers seem to do, but most often, I wait, mustering up courage. I imagine many writers waste a lot of time mustering up courage. It’s an endless task.
That’s why I was so inspired to see Jia Jiang’s inspiring talk about failure at the World Domination Summit. In his talk, he discussed how he sought out rejection for 100 days to “toughen up.” He asked people for crazy things, with the expectation of being rejected– but hilariously, many of these people said “yes.”
Jiang blogged about all these experiences with rejection, and now, he’s writing a book about it. He tells people it’s worth it to risk rejection rather than “rejecting yourself” and playing it safe. His talk inspired me to treat rejection like a game and have fun instead of fearing it.
“I want to find a world where there would be no fear for rejection,” Jiang said. “What would that world be?” I love imagining that world. What do we have to lose? Onwards!
And here is a song that will make you feel better about being rejected: