Issue 25: Rejection is relative
4 min read

Issue 25: Rejection is relative

I had surgery two weeks ago to remove a cyst and have been recovering slowly from the procedure. In my week off, I read four books, rested, and ate a lot of kouign amann. Today I got my stitches removed and am cleared to sit down again! Big moves are happening.

During that time, I also received my best writing rejection to date: I was a fiction finalist for Kundiman’s Mentorship Lab. I’ve applied to various Kundiman opportunities since college, so to make it to the final round feels like great progress. It's cheesy to say "it's an honor to just be nominated"'s true!

Rejection is a part of every writer’s life and every person has ways of coping with it. Alexander Chee suggests “learning how rejection can propel you forward.” Rachel Khong and Emma Straub point out that your work can’t be for everyone and the important thing is that it reaches the right editors, publishers, and readers. My favorite response was Samantha Irby’s: “I find it soothing to think about how much of this is out of my control. The only thing that I can be sure of is what I’ve made.”

One thing I learned early on in dialectical behavior therapy around emotional regulation has been helpful in the context of dealing with rejection. Rather than judging myself for what I’m feeling, I can use my emotions as data points. I can feel disappointed or hurt by the news but similar to Chee’s advice, I can also learn from the experience.

Did I do enough research? Was it a good fit based on the work they’ve already published or past contest/fellowship/conference winners? Did they give any insight into my submission or provide meaningful feedback? Rejections can be revealing and provide useful signals.

Rejection is also relative. Comparison is useful when you look back on your past self to see how far you’ve come. Are you taking more risks? Submitting to more places? Are you “leveling up” in your rejections (i.e. placing in a contest or being offered alternate submission opportunities)? Are you taking yourself more seriously by applying to things that feel like long shots?

If not, think about what’s holding you back. Consider seeking communities and resources like classes and writing groups. Explore other types of accountability like setting a goal of 100 rejections.

Of course, it’s always nerve-wracking to share your writing and put it up for evaluation. It always makes me feel as vulnerable as Mr. Krabs without his shell, raw and pink and a little sad. Sometimes it feels like you’re putting yourself out there for judgment too. But rejection is a healthy reminder to distinguish your sense of self from what you do. It’s a moment to pause and be honest about your work and motivations. Will you keep writing no matter what? What keeps you going? Even in rejection, there can be affirmation.

Rejection isn’t something that can be avoided or overcome. But it’s something that can become more familiar and less scary. Like so much of writing, it's a practice.

A Tumblr post that says "feel like pure shit just want to sit in a coffee shop with an open google doc and not write a single word."

Creative resources

  • Seven writers talk about how they deal with rejection.
  • My coworkers at Vox Media have launched a free training and mentorship program that pairs writers and editors from various newsrooms (including Vox, Eater, New York Magazine, and The Cut) with aspiring journalists. Applications are open now until Sunday May 16. This program is specifically designed for folks such as rising college seniors, recent graduates, and people transitioning into the industry.
  • A great interview between science journalist Ed Yong and writer Nicole Chung on helping readers make sense of the world.
  • Yanyi, author of one of my favorite newsletters The Reading, is hosting several free and paid events about starting paid newsletters: for queer and trans writers, for writers of color, and for all creative writers. Some of these have already filled up but you can sign up for the waitlist.

Recent reads & other media

Having taken a few of Leigh Stein’s writing classes, I read her most recent novel, Self Care, which was a fun satire about two cofounders of a wellness startup. While I thought it skewered the “girlboss gaslight gatekeep” mentality well, I found myself wishing it’d delved deeper into the cofounders’ relationship. I loved Rosie Danan’s first romance novel and equally adored her second, The Intimacy Experiment.

I also immersed myself in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse with Shadow and Bone (the first in a trilogy) and Six of Crows (the first in a subsequent duology), then watched the Netflix show. The book Shadow and Bone reads very debut YA novel circa 2012 with a classic Chosen One narrative, but Six of Crows is where Bardugo really hits her stride. It’s a heist novel that juggles 6-7 POV characters with really great worldbuilding, and can be read independently of the main trilogy. If you’ve read it, please enjoy this video explaining the book poorly through Vines. Please talk to me about how Nina and Matthias are the superior enemies-to-lovers couple.

Note: Book links are connected to my Bookshop affiliate page. If you purchase a book from there, you'll be supporting my work and local independent bookstores!

~ meme myself and i ~

Jesus turns water into merlot. These are just the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg. People trying to pronounce the last name “Nguyen.” Pomegranate-slapping machine. Whispering your dog’s favorite word. Tag yourself, I’m Ping.

Screenshots from Netflix's Shadow and Bone. The top image is Kaz, Inej, and Jesper looking at each other with the text "do u ever look at ur friends like 'ah yes i'm so glad these losers are mine'." The bottom image is of Kirigan with the caption "me: [lying] honestly."