A couple of years ago, I submitted an essay to an online literary magazine. I received a rejection e-mail from the editor a few months afterwards. Although I felt the usual disappointment at the time that my work was passed on, I’ve later become grateful for this e-mail. Instead of the typical standard letter that went out to multiple other applicants, the editor had taken the time to write a personal response to my submission.
If you’re like a lot of writers, you’ve received tons of rejection notices – so many in fact, that you’ve lost count of how many you’ve gotten back. So when an editor or any reader actually takes the time to write a personal response – any individualized response at all – it feels like an accomplishment, even an honor.
This particular rejection e-mail stands out to me because the editor gave me extremely useful advice. He noted a few things he felt were strong about my work but also gave me one suggestion: Scare yourself a little. He wrote that he had liked the voice of my work, but thought I hadn’t explored the essay’s topic deep enough and needed to take it further.
The more I thought about his words, the more I realized I agreed with him. I had submitted a nonfiction essay that detailed an emotional experience from my past. The piece really only skimmed the surface of the “real” story. I realized that, no, this wasn’t the story I wanted to tell after all. It didn’t include all the pain, the fear, the sorrow that I had felt at the time. It talked about those things, but it didn’t really get to the heart of the experience.
How could I “scare myself” while I was writing? What did that mean for me? I considered the inhibitions I felt when writing not just nonfiction essays but poetry, fiction, and even my private journaling. I thought about all the worries that stopped me from really expressing myself and telling the stories I wanted to tell.
Some of the things I worried about were:
What if others actually understand what this experience meant to me? How will I handle the fact that I’ve shared this experience with people? What will they think?
What if my grammar is “wrong” or my writing doesn’t flow or everything seems like a disorganized mess? Will it be obvious I don’t have formal training in writing? Will people think I am not a “real” writer?
What unresolved emotions might be holding me back from writing about this experience? How does writing about the past affect my present state of mind?
I realized I had to come to terms with these inhibitions, and I don’t know that I would have come to this conclusion without the advice from the editor. Getting rejected ended up having a positive impact on my writing not just for submitted works but my personal writing as well.
The next time I submitted an essay to the publication, I freed myself from the worry. I had made steps to ensure I was actually ready to write that particular story and that I felt like my story had been told in the way I wanted. This time, I received an acceptance e-mail and the piece was later published.
The advice had worked, and I was no longer “scared” of putting myself out there. These days when I am writing, if I feel stuck on certain pieces, I take a step back and consider whether I am unintentionally inhibiting myself.
If you are a writer struggling with finding your place in the world of writing, I would suggest you try to push yourself a little, too. Take some time to learn about yourself and what might be holding you back from telling the story that you need to tell.
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