If you like my successes, wait until you see my failures

The other night as I was having dinner with friends, my wife spilled the beans that a new short story of mine had been accepted for publication. Everybody congratulated me and seemed to think I’m experiencing some whiz-bang success as an author. What they don’t see, however, is the months of rejection letters upon which this single acceptance sits. Well, let’s rectify that.

  • The Mountain—A short story coming out in December in The Blue Nib Literary Magazine. Rejected 12 times before being accepted.
  • The Sisyphean Gambit—A short story published in Prairie Fire Magazine. Rejected 11 times before being accepted.
  • Duatero—A novel published by Bundoran Press. Rejected 49 times before being accepted.
  • Future Mating Habits of the Urban Bound Vampire—A short story published in Strangeways Magazine. Rejected 8 times before being accepted.
  • Naïve Gods—A short story published in the anthology Lazarus Risen. Rejected 5 times before being accepted

Those rejection rates may seem stunning, but it gets worse. When you’re submitting your work, it can take weeks or months for a reviewer to get around to your story and give you a yay or nay. Each of those stories, therefore, represent months, and in some cases years, of humbly submitting my work as I mutter, “Please like me,” waiting patiently, only to receive a “Thanks but no thanks.”

I think it is important we share these stories of rejection. Our culture seems obsessed with the myth of the “Chosen One.” You know the tale. A down-on-their-luck young person comes to learn they’re the “chosen one” and have been blessed with immense gifts of ability. After a quick training montage, their gifts allow them to defeat opponents who have trained for decades in their craft.

This myth is toxic. It is the enemy of accomplishment. People who believe in this myth see successful people and conclude they are naturally gifted, and that success simply flowed to them. They think if they try and fail, they lack the gift, and so must not be the chosen one. Rather than fighting to improve, they give up on their dreams.

There are no chosen ones. Even people with a natural talent in something spend years honing their craft to turn it from something they’re good at to something they’re successful at. If we can dispel that myth and replace it with stories of the real journey to success, we will arm our youth with the insight they need to achieve great things.

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