My Writing Journey

The Best Writing Advice I’ve Ever Received Came From a Rejection Letter

Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash

A couple of years ago, I submitted an essay to an online literary magazine. I received a rejection e-mail from the editor a few months afterwards. Although I felt the usual disappointment at the time that my work was passed on, I’ve later become grateful for this e-mail. Instead of the typical standard letter that went out to multiple other applicants, the editor had taken the time to write a personal response to my submission.

If you’re like a lot of writers, you’ve received tons of rejection notices – so many in fact, that you’ve lost count of how many you’ve gotten back. So when an editor or any reader actually takes the time to write a personal response – any individualized response at all – it feels like an accomplishment, even an honor.

This particular rejection e-mail stands out to me because the editor gave me extremely useful advice. He noted a few things he felt were strong about my work but also gave me one suggestion: Scare yourself a little. He wrote that he had liked the voice of my work, but thought I hadn’t explored the essay’s topic deep enough and needed to take it further.

The more I thought about his words, the more I realized I agreed with him. I had submitted a nonfiction essay that detailed an emotional experience from my past. The piece really only skimmed the surface of the “real” story. I realized that, no, this wasn’t the story I wanted to tell after all. It didn’t include all the pain, the fear, the sorrow that I had felt at the time. It talked about those things, but it didn’t really get to the heart of the experience.

How could I “scare myself” while I was writing? What did that mean for me? I considered the inhibitions I felt when writing not just nonfiction essays but poetry, fiction, and even my private journaling. I thought about all the worries that stopped me from really expressing myself and telling the stories I wanted to tell.

Some of the things I worried about were:

What if others actually understand what this experience meant to me? How will I handle the fact that I’ve shared this experience with people? What will they think?

What if my grammar is “wrong” or my writing doesn’t flow or everything seems like a disorganized mess? Will it be obvious I don’t have formal training in writing? Will people think I am not a “real” writer?

What unresolved emotions might be holding me back from writing about this experience? How does writing about the past affect my present state of mind?

I realized I had to come to terms with these inhibitions, and I don’t know that I would have come to this conclusion without the advice from the editor. Getting rejected ended up having a positive impact on my writing not just for submitted works but my personal writing as well.

The next time I submitted an essay to the publication, I freed myself from the worry. I had made steps to ensure I was actually ready to write that particular story and that I felt like my story had been told in the way I wanted. This time, I received an acceptance e-mail and the piece was later published.

The advice had worked, and I was no longer “scared” of putting myself out there. These days when I am writing, if I feel stuck on certain pieces, I take a step back and consider whether I am unintentionally inhibiting myself.

If you are a writer struggling with finding your place in the world of writing, I would suggest you try to push yourself a little, too. Take some time to learn about yourself and what might be holding you back from telling the story that you need to tell.

Thanks for stopping by, as always, and feel free to get into contact via e-mail (papercrowblog@gmail.com) or leave me a comment below!

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