I grabbed my bagel and coffee from the common folding table found at the back of the meeting room. The table was draped with a bright white cloth which illuminated every crumb or innocent splash and spill of the water that dripped from the chilled water dispenser or the coffee that didn’t quite make it all the way into a writer’s cup. I would take my regular seat towards the back of the conference room and listen to the monthly updates from the writers’ community in Kern County.
I found every piece of information useful during the meetings. There were stories from people who had lived to tell the tales of self-publishing, and there were authors who spoke about freelance opportunities, anthologies that we could contribute to, and information on how to strengthen our writing. However, I always found the section where they would invite writers to stand up and share their tales of rejection the most surprising.
“I submitted my non-fiction writing to [insert publication here] and was rejected,” one person would say after standing up to face the crowd of supportive writers. The crowd would then clap and encourage more people to stand up and speak about their rejection experiences. I knew the purpose was to encourage people to continue to submit their writing and that a rejection meant that they were actively writing and putting themselves out there, but I didn’t know how I truly felt about the process until my own writing was rejected.
Sitting in the submissions folder of my online Submittable profile is a string of grayed out labels next to a series of my writing titles that read, “Declined.” I would open the messages and the emails from these publications and read similar words of polite let downs and gentle encouragement. In the beginning, my sighs of disappointment lasted longer as they lingered over every word that was sent to me by panels of judges, esteemed publishers, and fellow writers. However, over time I would dwell less on the rejection and look forward to the next opportunity to submit a revised and polished version of my work again.
For every handful of rejections in my Submittable profile is a bright green “Accepted” label next to another cherished piece of writing. The shade of grays from the rejections all fade away against the vibrant green and the bright blue from work waiting to be told whether they can be published. I noticed a pattern of progress that wouldn’t have been possible had I never submitted my work in the first place.
The reason why we celebrated our rejections at the writers’ meetings is that you can’t have the “Accepted” labels, emails, and letters sent to you if you do not submit something. The “Declines” are proof that you are sending your work out into the world to be read, and although I’m now collecting a lot of that proof, I’m also slowly getting published as well.