Rejection letters make a difference

Home Sweet Home

One of the best parts of a road trip in Canada is the uninterrupted time to listen to CBC Radio 1. All talk radio with fascinating interviews of people known and unknown, every day people doing every day things extraordinarily, extraordinary people doing extraordinary things who offer up insight and information on living life beyond the edges of your comfort zone.

Somewhere between Calgary and Saskatoon, I heard Bill Shapiro, former editor of LIFE magazine and editor of the book, “Other People’s Rejection Letters’ being interviewed by Jian Ghomeshi, one of my favourite CBC hosts. When asked, what made you collect other people’s rejection letters, Bill Shapiro answered that he had received a letter from someone who mentioned they had a file of rejection letters. Bill Shapiro didn’t. And not having any rejection letters wasn’t a good sign.

Rejection letters are about courage. About taking risks. About stepping out there, beyond our comfort zone and leaping. They’re about hopes and dreams and putting ourselves ‘out there’ knowing, someone may not like what we’re doing or saying, and that’s okay. At least we’re doing and saying something ‘out there’ in that place where hopes and dreams come alive.

Bill wasn’t. Out there. Doing and saying enough to get any rejection letters.

Sunshiney walls

It was, he said, a good wake-up call. A turning point of sorts. He decided to collect Other People’s Rejection Letters to better understand those who were willing to take risks, and to awaken his own capacity to do it too.

It struck me, listening to Mr. Shapiro’s responses that I no longer know where my rejection letter file is. It struck me that I might possibly have simply thrown out every rejection letter I ever received, as if, discarding them took away the sting — which, is okay if I continue putting myself out there. Not so good if I used the rejection as an excuse to quit writing, or painting, or any of the things I do to express myself in the world.

And that’s where the real power of the rejection letter comes in. Does it stop me from trying, or do I ignore the opinion of others and continue to persevere, to carry-on bravely, to push forward, to lean into my dreams and keep living them into reality?

Ellie’s new bed

Imagine if an  aspiring Olympian decided with their latest loss to quit racing or playing the game. Imagine if they quit believing they could win.<p>For me, the parallel is writing. I have a book on my laptop waiting for me to continue writing. I have a dream waiting for me to unfold it. Imagine if, I decided because it hasn’t yet found its home, I decided to quit writing it.


16 thoughts on “Rejection letters make a difference

  1. Brilliant! I used to collect my rejection letters because they signified to me that I had tried. As soon as I did that, I started getting a few more acceptances – a short story here, an article there etc. Rejection can do wonders!


  2. remember LA Law? … I sent them a script idea … sent it off my mail the same week they announced cancellation of the show. But I got a rejection letter just the same. That LA LAW letterhead is somewhere in my treasure file … to just think, if they’d used my idea they could have saved the show . . !

    Seriously, rejection – or rather the courage to risk rejection is something more prevalent in men than women. Before you leap to call me sexist, remember that we are trained for it. At 11 or 13 or 15 … we begin that process of dialing the phone, asking a girl out … and learning that rejection comes in two forms. One is the firm NO. The other, we all hope for, is the softer NO, which simply means they haven’t said YES yet.

    And we learn, long before we get those rejection letters, that we don’t get anywhere if we don’t keep asking, offering, proposing, suggesting and pitching every time there is an opportunity


    p.s. nice paint job!


  3. Good points, Louise! I’ve always pursued competitive goals, so I’ve long assumed that rejection was part of the process. If a gatekeeper criticizes me, I try not to take it personally, though rejection is still painful – I’m only human. If I receive two or more similar criticisms, I consider whether they’ve identified an area for improvement. Most are non-specific, so I simply count the stack to know what numbers to declare when I share my success story. I went through at least 50 agents and two-dozen publishers before a small press picked up my memoir. I was still receiving rejection letters after it got published.


  4. A number of poets I know make it a project to collect at least 100 rejections a year, their motivation to send back out a submission for every submission rejected.

    The thing about a rejection letter: It’s not about you (underscore, exclamation mark) but about the work. (And that is an overused cliche.)

    I like Mark’s twist on rejection. And his P.S. about the kitchen painting. Your house looks lovely and intimate.


    • Hmmm. 100 a year… Okay. So that’s true courage and commitment. I was listening to a story on Carl Jung this evening on CBC and one of the things they said about an encounter he had with his subconscious was that a healthy ego can withstand psychotic breaks because it know the difference between real and unreal. Mrejextion letters are like that. As You say. They’re not personal. Thanks for the reminder Maureen. Time to start building my 100


  5. Since I have never received a rejection letter, you have to submit something to get a rejection letter and me well I have never written anything or submitted anything to anyone…………lol That said I found this to be really interesting and some good points made


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