My son recently attended his very first school dance. And danced. Twice. Which is more than I ever did in school. Attend or dance. Never went to a single one. I asked him if most of the guys danced or if they held up the wall, and he said not many danced. He did because girls asked him. I wanted to know why he hadn’t asked any, and his answer was ‘I don’t know.’ Which to me actually said, ‘I was afraid of rejection’. No one who attended highschool just read those words without instantly flashing backward in time. Rejection had to have been a humiliating experience. But with the passage of years, I now think about how much courage it took for someone to step out into the social spotlight and risk rejection. At least that person was doing something, instead of, like me, hiding behind a book or in a dream story.
Writing has the same risks though. You face rejection every time you ask that first, trusted reader, for an opinion. Every time you send out that first query letter. Every time you open your mouth at a writer’s conference or writer’s group. Every time you post a blog.
What terrified me when I sent out my first query letter wasn’t so much the fear of rejection, but the fear of losing my new-found confidence. It was safer to write in that dark closet alone, then to confess to people I was a writer, send out stories to be edited, and then think I had a right to send out a query letter. I was terrified that getting a rejection would deflate that fledgling confidence and shove me right back into the closet.
What happened though, was that I ended up very, very excited about the first rejection letter. I showed it to everyone, and showed it proudly. Because it was proof that I was doing something. In some ways, the rejection proved to me that I was a writer. Which is kind of embarrassing to admit to because we write for the love of writing, not for publication, so why did a rejection seem like proof? No idea, but it did. Maybe because it was a tangible thing I could hold that said I not only worked with words, I did something other than secret them away in the back of that closet. And I still love getting rejections.
I’ve also learned since that first query letter that there are levels of rejection. Some are good, as when the letter comes with personal comments. And some are awful, as when your return envelope comes back empty, but with a ‘no thanks’ hand-scrawled on the back of the envelope for every postal worker to see. Of course I prefer the ‘good’ rejections, but I still get a tingle even with the ‘bad’ ones.
Because it’s still proof of life.