An Appetite for Rejection

A guest post from Jeff Sullins, award-winning short story author.

Emerging from the holidays and vacation time at year’s end, it’s a daunting task to crawl back in front of a keyboard and get back to writing. I first must wade through a hundred distractions, some new, many returning from being temporarily laid aside. Finally, after cleaning the office, catching up on the day job, caring for sick children, and so on, it’s time to write. Maybe.

For me, writing is all about motivation. Everyone has ideas, or at least, the seeds of ideas. Turning those seeds into something interesting, that’s what it’s all about. But it takes work, and work takes motivation. And that’s the tricky bit.

Some would say it’s more about finding time. I will concede that time, or the lack of it, may be a factor. But it’s my assertion that the time exists if we want it to. It’s motivation–the magic that turns desire into work–that is the necessary catalyst for writing to happen. Time will fall into place if the motivation is there. At the risk of making enemies, let me throw this down: “lack of time” is an excuse. One excuse among many. Perhaps, one that may harbor a grain of truth every now and then, but still an excuse. In my, ah, less-than-humble opinion, I suppose.

This brings to mind a quote I like to refer to when I find myself lacking the motivation to get back to the stories I need to finish. While I haven’t been speaking about writer’s block specifically, I choose to interpret writer’s block as a simple lack of motivation to push the creative process forward:

“Writer’s block does not exist. It’s just a form of laziness. Or distraction. Or, perhaps in the case of some true genius, a form of madness.” –James V. Smith Jr.

I can safely exclude myself from the category of true genius, and am known to be an exceptionally lazy person. I need a new kick in the pants to find some motivation. Already nearly a week into the new year, and three short stories languish “almost finished” on my computer, having petered out in the face of holiday cheer.

After pondering how to give myself that kick, I have decided that in 2017 I will make use of a limitless, free resource to find motivation! This resource requires a minimal effort to obtain (I always like that), and comes straight from great minds steeped in writing knowledge.

Is it a book? No. A seminar? No. I am referring to rejection letters, of course!

I’ve become a fair collector of rejection letters, as I’ll assume everyone has. But what about these letters, perhaps more accurately termed simply rejection notes, could be considered motivating? Well, sometimes there is useful feedback in the note. That’s a high-value rejection, a treasure worth seeking.

Then there’s the even rarer, but highly rewarding, “we almost published your story” rejection. Here is one I received just before the holidays for one of my own stories:

“Dear Jeff,
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to read your story, <redacted>.
Although the decision was close, we have decided not to accept it. However, please know that your story made it to our final stage of consideration, something less than 10% of all submissions achieve.”

Now that is motivating! If I had only been a little more careful, or had taken a little more of my beta reader’s critiques to heart, I would have cleared the final hurdle. Coming close can be even more motivating than scoring a win, if you ask me. Well, up to a point.

More often than not, though, a rejection is merely a polite “no thanks.” But that, too, can be motivating in the right hands. How? Well, not without a willingness to accept some contrived goals, I admit.

For me, it will go something like this: every time I receive a rejection, I will either create a new draft of an existing story, or write 3,000 words in a new story. I’m still working on the details, so perhaps some adjustment will be in order. But the idea is there.

I think it might also be fun to collect a journal of rejections, too. Sort of a “greatest hits” album with no hits. But, one thing at a time. For now, I’ve got to send off some drafts and earn some rejections! And who knows, maybe 2017 will be the year I break a personal record for the number of rejections I can generate. If I do, it will mean I’ve been busy writing, and I’ll count that as a success.

Jeff Sullins works in the software industry by day and attempts to keep up with two young children the rest of the time. A former musician, game designer, and programmer, he’s begun to explore the strange new world of fiction writing.

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