When an editor tells you No, it can feel as if your world is falling apart. You’re thrown into grief, anxiety and self-doubt. It’s the sunken place. And sometimes, it can be tricky navigating your way out of it.
I was fortunate enough to speak with a few creative writers who’ve been there before, who know exactly what a rejection does to a writer. They entrusted me with their experiences and today, I’m sharing them with you in hopes that in them, you will find inspiration to keep going. Here are their stories.
Precious Tobi – Fiction Writer.
“I started with a very good streak. I’d won a short story contest in University. I’d get accepted everywhere I sent my work to after that. I had entered the Okada Books X Union Bank Short Story Competition. Although I didn’t win, I got shortlisted, so I felt good about it. It was all good.
When I submitted to the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, my first rejection came. I kept thinking to myself that perhaps, I was shooting too high. I thought the work was good. Really good. Everyone that read it had said it was and I had never been rejected before then. When the rejection letter came (in the spam folder too), I just kept staring at it. I couldn’t believe it. I had put months into that story. And it got rejected.
I couldn’t understand it [the rejection] and I was sad for days because of it. After that rejection came another. Then another. That’s when I stopped writing altogether.
I didn’t write for months. Anytime I’d try, there’d be a voice telling me to stop, telling me I wasn’t good enough. It was like a switch got turned off in my brain. All I could do was write my school assignments. It was hard.
I had friends who understood what I was going through then. They cheered me on and told me to keep going, and I found myself again. Although I didn’t get my confidence back, I started writing better stories. I worked on my Commonwealth entry and it eventually got published. All in all, it was a tough time.”
Bini – Fiction Writer.
“My most memorable rejection has to be when I entered a 100-word short story contest. I was so meticulous about my entry, about the writing and storyline. I really believed I would win at the time. You could imagine my surprise when I found out I didn’t even make the shortlist. I’m not being proud or anything but I was genuinely surprised.
Rather than sit and twiddle my thumbs, I knew I had to do something. I reached out to the organizers for feedback. They said my entry was interesting, however the title of the story didn’t reflect the theme and so it was outside of their scope. I found it important to defend my work after that. I pointed out that titles didn’t necessarily have to embody the theme since the story was already an interpretation of the theme and the title was only a summary.
They replied saying that they preferred if I’d done it [changed the title] and that I should “consider that option for future contests”. I didn’t exactly agree with them, but the conversation ended amicably.
I was really disappointed because I was counting on a win. But well, rejection is part of writing. I felt a lot better about the rejection because they acknowledged my point. Ever since then, I have kept writing, but mostly on blogs.”
Omodolapo Sanni – Poet.
“I get rejected a lot. I have just a few publications out there.
My first was Agbowo. I sent a poem I thought was good. It wasn’t. My mind totally deceived me. I thought it would be an easy acceptance, but then the rejection came. I took a longer look at the work, read other works and compared them to mine. After that, I wasn’t too surprised by the rejection.
As for the most memorable, it’d definitely be Polyphony Lit. I submitted my poem, “Black Man” in January. The wait was long, and I really needed something at the time. I found myself saying to no one in particular: give me something. anything. It was funny.
By May, I got the rejection letter. It’s most memorable because they gave me feedback on the work—how to make it better, tighter. It felt good strangely, to be rejected that way.
Many rejections came after that. I submitted to Agbowo again. A short story this time around. It got rejected. I knew they wouldn’t accept it but I sent it anyway. What I said was: if they accept this one, seeing how good it was, then maybe I’ll keep trying to get out there.
Now, I just want to get the work done and enjoy myself while at it. In the future, if I feel the need to submit again, I’ll definitely do that.”
Ruby Anyadike – Fiction Writer.
“I submitted to the Farafina Writer’s Workshop by Kachifo Press when I was 14. I remember that at the time, the laptop I wrote my stories on was in need of repair and so I had to write my flash fiction entry to the workshop on a foolscap sheet of paper.
I wrote it twice. And then a third time, just to be sure there weren’t any errors. It was all very mechanical.
I remember working on my entry for a week (a lot of time for flash fiction). When the day that I’d submit my entry finally came, I’d had to walk all the way to the cybercafe because we didn’t have internet either. All I had on me that day was enough for the internet service and not the transport fare there and back. So, I walked.
I got to the cafe, sweaty and tired, then I paid and then I typed in my entry and wrote my first short bio. I will never forget this because in my short bio I wrote “Ruby loves Ofe Ǹsàlà and Pounded Yam.” I thought it would make the editor find me endearing.
Later on, when I’d find out I was rejected, I’d hate myself for this and swear to never be so unprofessional when it comes to submissions ever again.
I trekked all the way back home hopeful that day. I did the labour. Physical and mental. I was young and passionate. The universe had to be on my side.
But it wasn’t.
I didn’t even get a rejection email. I kept refreshing and checking the spam folder for updates. There weren’t any. It wasn’t until three days later when I’d check the Kachifo Press website that I saw the shortlist.
What makes this rejection so memorable is that I was unqualified, unequipped and inexperienced. Up until that moment, I probably didn’t even know literary workshops existed. But I didn’t give up on myself, my story or on my hunger to learn and better my craft.
Of course, when the rejection came, I cried and wailed and did all the things people do. I probably said I would never write again too. But somehow, after all of that, I picked myself up and to this day, I’m still telling stories.”
What’s your most memorable rejection story? Share in the comments below.