The Beauty of Rejection

I didn't post last week. Sounds like a confession. It is, sort of. I had company. I had work. I had life. And I had no idea what to write about until yesterday. I did this cartoon over four years ago. It really has very little to do with what I'm actually going to say, but in so many ways it reflects what goes inside all of us- artists and non-artists included. We all want our "day on the stage" and "the crowd goes wild."

But if you put yourself out there, you are possibly setting yourself up for rejection, and that is what I'm writing about.

Anyone who wants to get published, or is trying to get published, whether that is with their writing or their art- or their music, or their acting... just about anyone who wants to do something with their lives must face rejection. Sometimes it is a form letter:

Dear Whoever You Are:
We are sorry but your story/art/face/craft/DNA is not right for our list. Good luck placing it elsewhere.
Sincerely, The Editors/Directors/POTUS/Dictator in General

Sometimes there are no letters, no calls, no thank you for trying.

Sure, you can be mad. Sure, you can blame them, blame the state of the world, blame your rotten luck and bad timing. But that won't get you anywhere but in the aisle of the drugstore looking for antacids. I have a much better remedy. Here it is, case in point:

This is the rejection letter I received yesterday. It's not from a publisher. It is from the highly competitive low-residency MFA in Creative Writing Program at Warren Wilson College. I had decided at age forty-eight to apply to this program to deepen my skill level. Even though I have realized my dream of writing and illustrating children's books, I have never stopped learning. I've been working on a novel, and I came to a crossroads whereupon I decided that working on a degree in creative writing would be exciting and challenging. I had done some online research into good low-residency programs, and there are many scattered around the country, but then I reconnected with my former English Lit professor, Tobias Wolff, and he suggested Warren Wilson.

Warren Wilson's tag line, "we're not for everyone... but then, maybe you're not everyone" appealed to my "going against the grain" sensibilities. I wrote my application essays, included 25 pages of my novel, and got my two letters of recommendation: one from Tobias, himself, and one from my lovely editor at Chronicle Books. I thought I had a pretty nice package there. But the odds were against me and I knew it. Warren Wilson only takes 7-10 new students each semester in the Fiction Degree Program. I would be up against folks of all ages. Some fresh out of Ivy League undergrad English Literature underwear. I was wearing old art school rags.

Nevertheless I motored on and kept checking my oil pressure levels. As the deadline approached for their reply, I sensed internally that I didn't make the cut. Call it intuition, or call it hocus-pocus. Driving down I-5 yesterday, my husband called me to say that a letter from Warren Wilson had arrived.
"Is it thin?" I asked.
"Yes." (not good.)
"Should you open it or should I wait until I get home?"
"Either way."
"Open it."

This is what it said:

Dear Nina:
On behalf of the MFA Academic Board, I thank you for your interest in our Program for Writers but am sorry to say we are not able to invite you to begin the degree program. In recent years our pool of applicants has grown considerably and, while that is gratifying, it means we are accepting a progressively smaller percentage of the writers interested in joining us.

I know this result is disappointing. I hope you can take some encouragement from the fact that our readers praised your manuscript and asked me to indicate their interest, as well as their regret that we do not have more places to offer. All of us involved in the application process appreciate your dedication, and wish you the best for your work,
Yours, ------ ------ MFA Director

I’m okay with this. Truly, I am. Of course I’d like to know if this is the “form letter” they send to all rejected applicants. And I’m wondering if I should have tried to get a recommendation from J.D. Salinger before he died. (just kidding!) But the truth is: I have so many books to write and illustrate that I really thought my plate was too full to go get an MFA right now. 

But what I did do is send out an email to my closest friends to tell them about the rejection and to let them know that I appreciated their support throughout the process, and that I was okay. What I got back was a beautiful out-pouring of thought and emotion:

Some of the replies:

I'm sorry to hear it didn't work out, but you are after all doing 
very well with your writing and your art, and I'm not sure you need them...

And I love your sane, balanced response to this news. You are that 
rare thing, growing more rare by the moment in this country -- a grownup.

Wow, so cool of you to handle this rejection with such aplomb, I am proud of you.

You sure handle disappointment with poise and grace! It was very competitive and you did all you could. I am impressed by your candor in sharing your rejection, but not surprised. You are a class act. BTW, with all your extra time, I think you should write an intermediate grade poetry collection. I think you are a wonderful poet and such a collection would be a big hit. Just fit that in sometime, okay?

These gifts from my friends were better than getting an acceptance letter. It made me realize that we don't share enough of our failures and we place too much emphasis on success. My favorite saying came from a sign I saw at a rug cleaning business, it said, "If you don't make mistakes, you won't make anything." It's true. We have to honor the attempts, and we have to pick ourselves up and keep going.

So don't stew. Don't seek revenge. Just keep putting it out there. Mistakes and all. You must first accept yourself in order to have the confidence to get others to join in your quest. 

And some days you get letters like this in the mail instead:

Embrace all the aspects of this life- rejection, acceptance, and everything in between, and learn to love the process. It's all part of the journey.
I hope you will honor whatever you try to do...


  1. So well put and a refreshing, Nina! And I love the letters from the students. True impact right there.

  2. A lovely post Nina. I love your "crowd went wild" drawing.

  3. Nina, you rock. You are so HUMAN and true. Thanks for this posting, and the perspective. Perfect. XOXO

  4. Humbled. I love you guys. Thanks for the comments.

  5. Nina, I find this whole post so refreshing and honest and lovely. Thank you so much for sharing. It makes me feel a little more courageous to face my own rejections.

  6. Great post. And awesome letters from the kids and friends. Rejection is unfortunately a fact of life. Not everyone will like your or my writing. Or maybe they're just having a bad hair day. As a writer, I think if I'm not getting rejection letters I'm probably not sending my work out enough. Hang in there and remember that the feeling of all those rejection letters doesn't compare to the absolute rushing joy of an acceptance letter. They make it worth the pain.

    The CRITTER Project and Naked Without a Pen


I welcome your comments, but please play nice! If my feelings get hurt I may have to ask you to take a time out and comments will go away. Think constructive if you must criticize.