Thoughts on rejections

I’ve been thinking a lot about rejections. What it means for us as writers to receive rejections and how that can change our relationship with our writing. At their worst, rejections can damage our belief in ourselves as writers, that the things we have to say, the stories we have to tell are not important, are obsolete. That our words are not needed, that we are not needed.

But I wonder, can we look at rejections, not as rejections of ourselves, or our entire body of work, but simply as a nudge to return to our work, to reevaluate how effective we are in saying what we want to say. What if we view a rejection, not as a rejection, but as an invitation to return to that story, to dive deeper into it, and see what new pearls have formed in our absence, in the time that have we spent away from it.

I want to tell a happy tale here, about how I had a story that received multiple rejections and then I went back and revised it and now it’s published. I can’t tell that tale — yet. But what I can say is that I had a story that received multiple rejections and I sat with those long list of rejections for a long time and then arrived (grudgingly) at the conclusion that something must not be working.

I rewrote that story from a different point of view, and arrived at a new ending.

I used to like that story a lot, the old version of it, and much of it remained the same in the rewrite. But I love the new shape it’s taken. I love the new ending and the possibilities that it opens up for my characters. And if I hadn’t amassed all those rejections, I wouldn’t have revisited that story.

I hope, InshaAllah, that I can celebrate the acceptance of that story somewhere, soon. But I’ve learnt to see rejections as a guide post. Collect enough of them on any story, and you’ll know that you haven’t dug deep enough, you haven’t pushed yourself far enough, you haven’t loved what you’ve written, nearly hard enough.

N.B. This is not to say, of course, that there is no conversation to be had about bias in publishing. But I think we can do both things at once. Be aware of this bias and also continue to push ourselves to produce our best work.

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