alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions

How I Learned to Love Rejection Letters


When I first started writing short stories, the process went something like this:

  1. Finish story
  2. Send to ONE market
  3. Check mailbox obsessively & envision glorious success
  4. Receive rejection letter
  5. Pitch headfirst down stairs of mortification into basement of self-loathing
  6. Give up on story


The Basement of Recrimination.  (Photo: Library of Congress)

The Basement of Recrimination.
(Photo: Library of Congress)

Seriously, those rejections were like acid baths that I soaked in for weeks. I’d eventually start to recover and then, like suddenly remembering a nightmare where you’ve accidentally stabbed your mother and drowned a basket of kittens, the pain would come rushing back. I’d remember the cruel words of the rejection, and my unbelievable presumption in sending the story out—what made me think I could write, anyways?–and sink back into the pit.

Your bath is ready, madam.

Your bath is ready, madam. Photo by Iain Browne, via Flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Fast forward a few—well, actually a lot of—years. Somewhere along the way, I hardened my carapace. Rejections became….just one of those things. Part of the business of being a writer. Submit->reject, submit->reject, submit->reject is a background rhythm that means I’m participating in the publishing world. I’ll (probably) even sell the story in the end.

But for the last twelve months, I’ve been focused on novels. Sometime around January 2014, I sold the last finished story I had in my inventory. And that’s when things got tricky. Let’s try a little quiz:

Question: What happens when you aren’t sending stories out?
Answer #1: You don’t get any acceptances.
Answer #2: You don’t get any rejections.

You might not think #2 is much of a problem. But here I am, spending hours at my writing everyday with absolutely nothing to show for it. I’m just typing away, day after day, on some project that no one has read, that maybe no one will ever see, that might not even exist. It’s like one of those quiet Sunday mornings when you go outside and there are no people and no cars and you worry just for a second that overnight everyone decamped in the flying saucer and neglected to tell you.

Where did everybody go?

Where did everybody go?

This was when it was really tempting to turn my focus back to short stories, just to try to prove that I was vital, relevant, active, that I was doing something. But that was wrong, I knew it in my gut. My writing home is in novels, that’s where my happiness lies.

My solution? A novelist’s support group. I had friends from Kij Johnson’s workshop who were also working on novels. What if we got together and cheered each other on? What if we had a place to remind each other of our goals and to complain about our problems and encourage each other?

So we did. We don’t critique. We don’t give feedback. We mostly acknowledge. About once a week, we check-in and say, “Hey, you’re out there working on a novel. I am too.” And “This shit is hard. But we can totally do it.” I swear, this is the best kind of writer’s group I have ever belonged to. Noveling is a long lonely road, and the group is a pair of flip-flops and a handful of trail mix.

The more I work on novels, the more I think that the really truly ONLY skill you must possess in order to write a novel isn’t a mastery of plot structure, brilliant prose, or intense worldbuilding. It’s just the ability to eat your heart out every day and KEEP GOING. If you can do this, you can write a novel. That’s the only single talent required.

And the support of likeminded friends can help get you there.

Author: Alisa Alering

I write stories. I read stories.

8 thoughts on “How I Learned to Love Rejection Letters

  1. Excellent piece, Alyssa. Me thinks I could learn a lot from you. My life would be so much easier if I could just learn to embrace rejection.

  2. This is also where I’m at in my writing. I still have short stories out on submission, but have added nothing new. I get all itchy when I think about not adding new inventory to the send around, but in my heart I know the novels I’ve been focusing on are closer to what I’d like to do. Sigh, early writing career takes so long to feel stable…if ever.

    • Glad to know I’m not alone, Tina! I know that the work I’m doing now isn’t wasted, but these timelines are excruciating. It’s hard when one is impatient for success…or at least a gold star along the way. No wonder so many people decide to stick with short fiction. Good luck with your novels–we are doing the right thing!

  3. Feeling this now. (Fellow Codexian here. Nice site! And Robert Coover likes your work? Man, ride THAT fuel!)

    • Thanks for visiting, Tim. Are you working on a novel now? (And thanks for the reminder about the positive. It helps soften the rejection I received today.)

      • Trying to. Its in emotionally difficult territory, so I’m procrastinating. Spending time mulling over rewrites of past work (got a rejection who said the story needed more development for the idea, which is good news), and going through midlife crap.

  4. Procrastinating– You mean like spending time on the internet reading blogs? But, really, what part of writing isn’t emotionally difficult territory? I was mulling this only yesterday–I always want to avoid the painful parts of writing, but if they evaporated, my interest probably would too. I guess we’re stuck with it. Good luck with your novel and your midlife crap.

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