Righting the Rejection

My novel has received 70 rejections over the last 21 months. I have written dozens of short stories and have only published four. I have written over a dozen personal essays and have only published one. I have written a ton of bad poetry, but managed to get a single one to print. As a writer, I deal with rejection on a daily basis and it’s a soul sucking, ego crushing, dream-breaking pain in the ass.

I officially set out on a professional creative career when I coughed up over thirty grand in student debt to attend an MFA program. It was here that I even first began to learn of literary magazines and the process of submission and the oh-so-glorified rejection letter. Like most amateur but hopeful and determined young writers, I began to submit the shittiest drafts of work to the most well respected magazines and in no time at all I had a steady stack of mailed form rejection letters piling up in my mailbox. It took almost the entirety of my MFA program to realize I was both writing the wrong material and submitting to the wrong magazines. But with time and valuable mentorship, I was able to home in on my creative voice and focus on my process of writing. I took some time away from submitting to minimize distractions and shifted my focus from short stories and literary magazine submissions to fully devote myself to what mattered most to me, my novel. I threw my heart into it. After five years of writing and rewriting, bleeding and crying, birthing it from inside of me until I was certain, beyond a doubt, that I had written it the best way I could, and with trepid but hopeful determination, I sent out my first query letter. Within minutes, I received my first rejection from the most frightful entity – The Literary Agent.

Over the last 1.5 years or so, I have collected my fair share of rejection letters. Some form, some personal, some with feedback, most without, a few promising manuscript requests but always with the crushing news that I was not going to make the cut. I watched my query tracking chart lengthen and expand but tried to keep my chin up, above water where drowning occurs under the usual weight of self-loathing and doubt. I got busy on my next novel, wrote a few more short stories, collected more magazine rejections, worked on a picture book, and continued to find rejections waiting for me in my inbox nearly each day. And the truth is – it gets to you.

There are often times where I fall deep into what I call a rejection depression. In it, I am convinced that I am not a good writer or that I am a good writer who will never see success. Despite many encouraging responses, I often feel a tragic push to shelve my novel — a body of work I devoted five years of my life to. And sometimes the doubt intensifies so profoundly that I even consider giving up writing entirely. And it is here, in this rut, when my self-esteem is pooling at my feet, where I realize that the rejection is not why I write.

It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do, write through the rejection, but I do it, because writing is more fulfilling than the acceptance of publication and not writing is more destructive than the rejection. It’s not an easy task to pull myself up and build my self-esteem again, bit by bit, while it seems that an entire industry is constantly bringing me down. But I find the answer to survival lies on paper. It’s the writing itself — the satisfaction of words strung together to form a body of meaning — that allows me to understand and communicate with the world around me.

I am often asked what I do, and despite the fact that people are desperate for me to validate my “job,” I am nevertheless a writer. No, I do not have a published novel. No, you probably have not read anything I have written. And no, I do not make any money doing it. But I can say I love it, that it is a part of me as much as my veins and my pumping heart, and that as much as I sometimes can’t live with the rejection, I already know I can’t live without the writing. So as I continue to find a continuous feed of rejection in my in-box each day, I have learned the only way to right that rejection is to write through it.

Talya Jankovits earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University. Her work has appeared in The Citron Review, Recovering the Self: A Journal of Hope and Healing, and her short story “Undone” in Lunch Ticket was nominated for the 2013 Pushcart Prize. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two daughters and is working on her second novel while seeking representation for her first.