How much of our lives is geared towards avoiding rejection? Whether in love, the workplace or simply booking a table at a popular restaurant, us human animals seem to be allergic to hearing the word, 'no.' The grief and humiliation of no extends it's sticky tentacles deep into our past, touching those bruised places where we were bullied, laughed at or ignored, prodding that uneasy sense that yes, you were right all along, you are not good enough after all.
The path of a writer means a commitment to weathering a lot of rejection. It's like marrying the girlfriend/boyfriend who is just not that into you and hoping that through your persistence they change their mind (disclaimer: not a recommended approach when applied to love).
So, I have become an expert at rejection. I have been rejected at the end of the novel acquisitions process. Twice. I have been rejected by agents and short story competitions. Of course, many stories have succeeded, and I have had great victories in my time as a writer, but I do feel like a professional loser a lot of the time.
The thing is, rejection has a purpose. While my ego may have interpreted it as such, I have never got an email saying:
"Amy, God, I don't know where to start. You are a despicable human being devoid of talent."
I've rather got mails saying:
Not for us.
While my first rejection saw me sobbing in the bathroom at work, I'm getting better at shaking the initial disappointment off. Usually, when I read the rejection again, I learn something about my craft, something I can apply to make my writing better or learn about what matters in the publishing industry. Sometimes, the rejection is not a rejection at all, but (as in a recent case), a revise and resubmit. I don't see this as pain anymore, but as a privilege to have my work read by experts and make it the best it can be.
The other day, I went to see Indian classical singer and guru Ajoy Chakrabarty in concert. He has over 100 albums to his credit, and has received several national accolades. He is a definitive force in Indian classical music, and many of the audience were visibly moved by his visit to South Africa. Yet for all the fanfare he addressed us with authentic humility, saying, "I am forever a student of music."
I am forever a student of writing. Surely rejection is just another lesson, another step forward on the path? How can it be framed as bad if my work is being read and engaged with? Every book, every short story, helps me grow comfortable in my style. Every rejection points me in the right direction. It is a necessary refining process that will persist until my work is ready.
I'm applying this ethos to the rest of my life, going for clients I've been afraid to ask for work, or asking people that seem really cool out for coffee. The more I do it, the more I realise the anticipation of rejection is worse than the rejection itself. So send that friend request, ask for that meeting, motivate for that raise. The worst you can hear is no.