It’s not the first time I've heard this but recently, an article from Lit Hub showed up on my feed about how every writer should have a goal of 100 rejections a year. 100 rejection emails- funny to remember how they used to come in the mail, when we used to actually carry our manuscripts down to the Post Office and give them a little kiss before sending them off. If you know what a SASE is you are probably over 30.
I remember in high school some of the girls started the Wall of Rejection, where we posted all the letters from colleges we didn't get into. The staff discouraged us, but when I taped my letter up from Middlebury I somehow felt better. When the Wall of Rejection grew larger it was a collage of letters representing the blood, sweat and tears we had all put into the college application process. More importantly, it was a visual reminder that we were not alone. And like with submitting writing, we eventually got some acceptances too.
Today I taught a poetry lesson to a group of Freshmen and they had to use a photo of themselves that they didn't really get to pick out. I pretty much had their teacher ambush them, take the photos, and we did a project around them immediately. Watching them work with photographs of themselves they didn't like all that much was super interesting, sort of like watching them grapple with self-rejection in a 50-minute period. I think what made it work was that we were all in it together, bad fluorescent lighting and all. Though next time I might give them more agency and have them bring in a picture they like, it reminded me so much of the writing process in general. You start with a piece of something, it might not be that great but it’s something, and you figure out what’s strong about it. Maybe it’s one line, maybe it’s one word, and you go from there. It’s a process, it’s imperfect, and once you get out of your own way it’s a lot easier to do. We are the first line of rejection that has to be crossed before we can even begin writing at all.
In Aurthurian Legend, (Chrétien's Perceval, 1180) the Fisher King is a character that appears in different versions, always as a mortally wounded King who cannot move his legs and is the last in a long line of guardians of the Holy Grail. When Percival, a Knight searching for the Grail, happens upon the Fisher King's castle his arrival is celebrated with a huge feast. An elaborate procession passes through the dining hall containing a candelabrum, a bleeding lance, and a grail. Percival watches the show, eats dinner, and goes to bed. When he wakes up, the castle is in ruin and everyone is gone. Chrétien died before story's completion, but I think his point was that the Holy Grail passed right under Percival's nose, but he failed to ask the important question and it changed the course of reality.
What if we aimed for 100 rejections a year but not just within our art form? What if we challenged ourselves to go out on a limb, ask for what we want, offer what we have, and be open to all responses? We might get a no, but we also might get a not right now, a wait and see, or even a yes. How can unasked questions change the course of our reality? How can we view rejection as a stepping stone to acceptance?