What Does It Mean to Get Rejected?
getting a rejection truly is a neutral interaction, while also being a strangely intimate one
What is a rejection? What does it mean when you get nothing but deflating punch to the stomach after you invested all that energy, all that hope, and all of that meaning into something? I know a lot about rejection. I’ve received gut punches that have made me give up, made me weirdly jealous even though no one has ever even heard of these things, and ones that made me cry like somebody died. Getting rejected fucking sucks.
I’ve also sent out a few thousand rejections to writers over the last few years. Talk to any editor at any lit mag and everyone says the same thing. It changes you. It humbles you. It’s like visiting outer space, looking back at the earth, and realizing none of it matters. A rejection is so subjective and ultimately meaningless.
I also have a ton of dysphoria when it comes to rejection. It’s called rejection sensitivity dyphoria and it’s a near-100% feature in people in with ADHD and other neurodivergencies, and I have the full starter pack of symptoms plus some shiny foil cards that I’m desperate to trade for anything cooler because I also have the FOMO card.
I perceive all interactions as emotionally charged. I have trouble seeing neutral or vague reactions as anything other than a total renunciation of my identity as a writer. I practice my self-cruelty in the mirror. It’s like any dysphoria. It’s a nasty bitch that comes for the throat. I shouldn’t have tried. I’m embarrassing myself for even thinking I deserve to try. When I get a rejection, it’s a puzzle to work through with my Little Orphan Annie decoder ring, reading between the lines to confirm what I already know to be true: Everybody hates you! Be sure to drink your Ovaltine!
Having mundane interactions spiral into hours of self-loathing makes putting myself out there difficult. Sending out thousands of rejections has helped me overcome my struggle with it. At its core, this was probably just exposure therapy, and I am just a basic bitch who needed a therapist. Instead I got the beautiful journey of creative writing.
I’ve learned that getting a rejection truly is a neutral interaction, while also being a strangely intimate one. I’m a writer, too. In this world, it’s just us, like the Harry Styles song. Running TBQ has given me perspective that I’m a part of a community and larger conversation. No one is ever looking at me specifically, combing over me, searching for my flaws. That’s just the dysphoria talking.
Likewise, I’m never looking for flaws or reasons to turn down a writer. Instead, I’m looking for ways to connect across the thousands of conversations, noises, signals, and bastard voices in my own head. I’m trying to hear you. Most of the time, your message didn’t make it, for whatever reason. It might connect with another editor. Another audience. Another format. Another approach.
It’s a pass. It’s not a fit. It’s not you, it’s me. Once you see the big blue marble in perspective, you also start to see your shiny cards are not as special as you thought. You’ve got the same hackneyed plots, common descriptions, and bucktoothed Bidoof cards going up against glittery Charizard holos. You’re about to get slaughtered.
In every rejection, there is always a brief moment of perception, even in the coldest of form letters that land like a blunt force objects. It’s in this moment where the dysphoria feels most charged. It’s in the way boulder was just dropped on your head, the literary writers going Lord of the Flies on your ass. In the strange passive voice the editor slipped into that made it feel like they were avoiding eye contact. Sometimes there are compliments that almost felt like actual touch. Sometimes there is no reply at all, left behind orbiting in oblivion.
Keep trying. Keep writing. The flatness, neutrality, and universality of this advice spans across every book, artistic form, and basically the entire course of humanity. Keep trying to tap in to the conversation and submitting. When you do make those connections, it feels like lifelines and tethers to pull you back in. Keep throwing them out there.
Oh, rejection. I’ve been trying to place a story since October, and I’ve started a counter. It’s at 26 rejections, by far my most rejected story. And during this whole long process, I realized two things: the more rejections I get, the less they sting, and two, I haven’t lost one bit of faith in the story. I just wish I knew if there was really something wrong with it, or if I just haven’t found the right fit for it yet. P.S., I published a post on my blog detailing the “leave earth, look back, nothing matters” feeling last week. Funny.
Rejection! Here I was thinking I was all Zen about it after the "100 Rejections Project" and then get that one - on a full - "on further reading, it didn't hold up for me"... *single tear falls down one's cheek*
But hey, how strong is our faith if it never gets tested? Keep on writing, comrades!