A few days ago a member of the writing communities I follow posted a blistering attack on the idea that receiving rejection letters from publishers makes writers stronger. While I do not ascribe to pop-Nietzsche idea that everything that does not destroy you is automatically beneficial, I can see benefits in certain types of rejection.
The case for a personalised rejection benefiting an author is clear enough that I do not intend to spend time on it. However, the case for form rejections or even silence bringing a benefit also becomes clearer if it is viewed not as whether it is good to be rejected, but rather whether it is always good to be accepted.
When we are learning a skill we expect to start with little ability and gain skill until we are competent. Although some people continue to train themselves in search of a theoretical perfection, most of us grow up accepting external validation as a target for competence: from gold stars, through exams, to performance reviews. Therefore, it is easy to fall into the mindset of treating success in a competition or a publishing deal as proof of competence. Receiving rejections early in one’s career can help create the belief that writing requires an ongoing drive to improve rather than resting on one’s laurels.
Once we have written for a while we are less at risk of forgetting our maintenance. However, that does not mean our work will all run smoothly from then on. We can still reach beyond our ability, or even just have a bad month, and create a work that is not representative of our skill. Here rejection protects us both from first seeing the flaws after publication when it is much harder to fix them, and from having someone’s first experience of our work be mediocre.
It is unfortunate that these instances of beneficial rejection do not come with a label to distinguish them from those that merely grind away at our desire to be published. However, by remembering that acceptance can be a mixed blessing we might start the journey from disbelief we were rejected to considering why this particular work was rejected much faster, reducing the chance that we are merely re-submitting poor work.
Do you think acceptance is always positive? Do you have other examples of how rejection benefits writers?