Successful Writers Learn to Deal with Rejection

Every year for the past decade, I have been invited to speak at a magazine writing course at Emerson College on my life as a travel writer. One of my favorite props to bring to that class is a folder filled with at least 200 rejection letters that I pass around. I especially like the one rejection from Mad Magazine that simply checks off a box: “Didn’t tickle our funny bone.” When I first started as a freelance journalist back in the early 90s, you would send a query letter with a self-addressed stamp envelope. If the publication liked your idea, they would more than likely call you to do the assignment. If they didn’t like the pitch, they would send back a rejection letter. I’m not sure what masochistic strain of my personality persuaded me to collect these rejection letters, but I cherish them now. Many editors were encouraging, writing comments like “please send us other ideas.” One editor would simply write “Nope” on my pitch letters and send it back. 
The reason I’m reminded of this now is that the latest Man Booker prize winner, Marlon James, admitted in an interview that his first novel was rejected 78 times. 78 times!! We live in an age of helicopter parents and over-coddled college students, ones that are used to getting their way. That simply doesn’t happen in the writing world. You will face rejection often and even after getting the assignment, you could deal with a litany of problems, worst of all an editor who doesn’t know how to edit. If it’s your desire to be a writer, have patience, give yourself enough time to make dreams a reality, and persevere through the muck. Better yet, laugh off the rejection. The word “Nope” became a running gag between my wife and me for years. “Do you want to go food shopping?” “Nope.” “Time to shovel the driveway.” “Nope.” I love that Marlon James was rejected 78 times and I can’t wait to read his latest novel, “A Brief History of Seven Killings.” My record number of rejections is 38 for an assignment to write about the freighter cruise ship, Aranui, which still delivers food to the residents of the Marquesas Islands. More than 1500 published clips and some 90 countries later, I’m often asked what’s my favorite place in the world. The Marquesas Islands, I reply.