January 4, 2013 by Nathaniel Tower
A wonderful present greeted me this morning: my first acceptance of 2013. From a paying market.
My joy in receiving this email goes far beyond a simple acceptance though. This is the story of the unrelenting attitude a writer must have.
As writers, we face rejection more than anyone else. The ugliest, most awkward people don’t get rejected as much as we do (not to say that writers can’t also be ugly and awkward). We get form rejections, personal rejections, close-call rejections, short-listed rejections, and probably many other styles of rejection that I can’t think of right now.
We must be resilient. We can’t crawl into the corner and cry when a publisher doesn’t like our work. No matter how much time submitting our work takes away from our actual writing, we must do it over and over until we find the right match. Our stories need homes.
Whenever a story of mine is rejected, I try to revisit it, probably not as long as I should, and then I submit it again.
One of my favorite stories that I’ve ever written is “Pregnancy and the Wildebeest,” a surreal/absurdist tale in which a man (Alfred) trying to wash his pregnant wife’s underwear discovers a wildebeest in the laundry room. Needless to say, it’s hard to do laundry when a wildebeest is using the washing machine. Just look at the size of the thing. One of his sweaters must take up the whole load.
This story started in Zoetrope‘s Flash Factory, a wonderful writing community that functions as a close-knit workshop group. I don’t remember the exact prompt, but there were several fans of the story. They gave me suggestions, and I tinkered with the story until I thought it worked well enough to submit.
Unfortunately, “Pregnancy and the Wildebeest” faced much more than the obstacles of its protagonist.
The story has been rejected over fifty times. Just submitting the story to fifty places probably took five or more hours of my life. Many of these rejections were close, or so the editors said. A handful of helpful editors explained why they were passing. Some even wanted to accept it but couldn’t because of other whimsical animal stories coming soon.
But fifty losses cannot defeat this writer. Nor should it defeat any writer. If you believe in your story, you have to keep trying. You owe it to your characters.
I was never tempted to give up on this story. I couldn’t do that to Alfred or the wildebeest. But I also grew a bit tired of the revisions and the rejections, so I may have given it a break at some point.
Almost two years after writing the story, and after receiving enough rejections to make most people give up, Lucinda Kempe from the Flash Factory mentioned the story and how much she liked it. The story may have been dying, but Lucinda’s kind words brought the wildebeest back in full force. I wondered how she could possibly remember something from that long ago. She responded, “How could anyone forget that wildebeest?”
In the story, Alfred attempts to overcome the wildebeest several times in order to fulfill his task. I won’t tell you whether or not he’s successful. You’ll be able to read the story yourself (tentatively retitled “Early Saturday Morning”) on January 25th when it appears on the Old Timey Hedgehog tumblr, and then again on January 31st when it appears as the debut story in The Old Hedgy Times (the digital magazine). It’s a new joint, but I can already attest to the great editing skills of Sarah McDaniel Dyer. She was kind enough to give a rewrite opportunity, and with her guidance, the story has become much more than I ever imagined.
Of course we’ve all heard about all those great authors whose work had been rejected hundreds of times before they went on to sell millions of copies. I’m sure that deep down, most of us believe those stories are exaggerated, and although we want to believe in some vague hope that someday we can become professional writers with millions of adoring fans waiting desperately for our next release, outwardly we admit that we’re just doing this because we love it, that it’s a hobby or a passion or a way to kill time or burn off creative energy. Sometimes we even laugh it off when people call us writers, because really we’re mostly something else.
Whatever you’ve written or are writing now, keep editing, keep writing, keep submitting. Don’t let that wildebeest we call rejection prevent you from doing what you need to do. The wildebeest may knock you down, and it will probably hurt, but your story is too important to let the wildebeest win.