Back before email, there were days when I would get several rejections from magazines in one day, which meant big fat manilla envelopes in my mailbox. If I happened to be there when the mailman was filling the boxes in our apartment building, it also meant pitying looks from him. That was almost as bad as the times when I'd open the mailbox and the envelopes would spill out onto the floor of the mail room with people watching me bend to pick them up. Humiliating.
I'd had a dreamlike start. I'd published my first short story in Redbook Magazine, which had a readership of 4.5 million readers. The story had won the writing contest at my MFA program, judged by the famous editor of the series The Best American Short Stories. I made a lot of money for someone in his early twenties, got fan mail, queries from agents -- but for five years after that, not one editor anywhere accepted another story of mine.
Rejection is a part of every writer's life. How do you deal with it and keep going? Here are four suggestions that have me buoyed me up my entire career without fail.
Get a dog.
Your dog doesn't care if you win a Pulitzer or make a bestseller list. Your dog loves you for being you and just wants to have fun, be fed, walked, and played with. Your dog will remind you every single day what pure unadulterated affection is will and keep you grounded. Your dog will make you laugh and your dog will be as good as a few fingers of scotch when you feel miserable because your career is in the toilet.
It doesn't matter whether you swim, bike, jog, do yoga, lift weights, do Pilates, study martial arts. Writers spend way too much time in their heads and it's important to immerse ourselves in the physical. This has lots of advantages aside from distraction: it keeps us healthy and happy, broadens our social circles, and may even give us ideas for our work as a side benefit.
Nourish your sense of humor.
It's often true that laughter is the best medicine. A writer's career can be as crazy as the Dow Jones Index. You need to protect yourself. Collect your favorite funny movies, in whatever form, and watch one or more when your career goes south. When I'm miserable, seeing Whoopi Goldberg pretend to be Diana Ross in Jumpin' Jack Flash never fails to crack me up and lift me out of the blues.
Have friends who don't write.
When you're surrounded by writers, you're surrounded by people who want the same things you do, who suffer the same ups and downs as you. And if they do better than you, which they may sooner or later, it'll be hard to stay centered. More importantly, living in that kind of bubble, you can forget that there's a world outside of writing. Yes there is!
Lev Raphael's 25th book is a novel of suspense about gun violence, stalking, and militarized police: Assault With a Deadly Lie.