[note: here's some good news before we start! My short story "Skinjack" has just been published over at 365 Tomorrows. Check it out!]
I've been rejected for lots of things before. One time in high school I made a mix CD for this tall and athletic girl who was way out of my league. In my infinite smoothness I wrote my cell phone number on the CD. She never called.
Before last week the most important rejection of my life happened right before I graduated from film school. I was in Los Angeles, interviewing with the Director's Guild of America for a coveted spot in their Assistant Director Training Program. Unsurprisingly, I passed the written section. Then, I had to fly across the country to sit in a room and work through logic puzzles with a group of other applicants (an accurate description of film production on a small scale). It was harrowing, to say the least. I was still a dumb college kid who had no idea how the world worked.
After the in-person assessment I met up with an old friend and we followed Mulholland Drive through the Santa Monica Mountains. I waited for the DGA's phone call as we sat on the side of a dusty hill overlooking downtown LA. Without the jagged skyline of skyscrapers I was used to on the east coast, the short buildings created an ocean of lights. I saw what my life could've been. Get the trainee position, move to LA, spend the next twenty years working on film sets.
I got the email and I could tell just by the preview line on my phone's lock screen that I didn't get in. It was my first brush with form rejection: thank you for applying. In the days after, I was lost. I'd never been rejected on such a magnitude before. I was accepted to every college I applied to. I got every job I applied for in high school and my resume got me on any film set I was called to in college.
Long story short, that rejection fundamentally changed the course of my life. So what did I do? I became a writer, where rejection is non-existent and success comes easy.
I received my first rejection for my fiction the other week. It felt great. I didn't spiral into a flat spin of despair like I probably would've in college. In the years since the Los Angeles disappointment I've learned to love rejection. It's sharp. It's prickly. It makes you feel a certain way and that's damn good. It reminds you that no, this shit isn't easy and yes, this is the sensation that happens when you have skin in the game and care about the outcome. It's exhilarating, isn't it?
I knew I loved writing when I first felt the thrill someone reading my work and hearing their reactions. It was astounding to watch them consume something I had created, watch them step into my world and my mind for a while, and watch them come back with new thoughts. This feeling can't exist without its opposite--rejection. If everyone showered my writing with glowing praise, it would get old. It would become meaningless.
On the other hand, rejection makes us strong. Repeated rejection turns sensitive writers into steely artistic juggernauts. After enough blows a writer can shrug off the sting and the hurt feelings and use rejection to improve his or her craft. At the end of the day that's what's important. Learning from rejection. Loving rejection. Each one makes you more experienced, more seasoned, and, for me personally, more legitimate.
So be like Stephan King and save those rejection letters. Print them out. Read them often, knowing that every day you keep writing after getting rejected is a bruise healing over and growing doubly resilient.