Have you come across the ‘100 rejections’ challenge? Collecting rejection letters is not a new concept in the writing world – for many of us, it’s just a necessary evil. But over the past two years, perhaps following Jia Jang’s TED talk What I Learned from 100 Days of Rejection, the number ‘100 a year’ has established itself as a goal to aim for. Although it may instinctively seem strange to focus on the negative, aiming for 100 rejections in 2018 is one of the best things you can do for your writing.
The law of averages
Anyone who’s spent any time trying to get their stories published knows that a good story isn’t all it takes. Sometimes, your story just doesn’t hit the right person at the right time, perhaps it’s too similar to something they’ve just put out, it’s too long, too short, and so on and so forth.
Since so many variables need to align for your story to be accepted, there’s always a chance you’ll get a yes – but there’s a much higher chance you’ll get a no.
Submitting a story is like rolling a dice. Every time you roll, you have a 1:6 chance of rolling a six, but a 5:6 chance of not rolling a six. Even so, we know that you may end up rolling five sixes in a row, and then have to wait 12 rolls before another comes along. So what do you do if you really want to roll a six? You roll the dice many times. Although you’re not guaranteed a six, you’re much more likely to get ten of them if you roll the dice sixty times than if you only roll it six times.
The more you submit, the more likely you are to get a yes. The odds of getting your story picked up may be much lower than 1:6, but if you work hard to write, edit, research and submit enough stories to get 100 rejections, you’re very likely to get a few yeses too.
A rejection can feel absolutely devastating, and as humans we are used to feeling ashamed, discouraged and useless when our attempts don’t get the desired results.
Training yourself to get comfortable with rejections requires a lot of work, but one shortcut to success is to make rejections a goal in themselves. Did your story get rejected? Okay! You’re one rejection closer to your 100th. Did your story get accepted? Awesome! But now you need to pitch even more to reach your rejection quota.
It may seem counter-intuitive to celebrate rejections, but each rejection is taking you closer to your dream of being published, and making you a little better at being rejected.
Become a better writer
Whenever the discussion of production comes up, you’ll always hear critical voices that say good art takes time and that working a whole year on one story will make you a better writer than if you’re writing 50 stories a year. In reality, all research shows that the more you write, the better you become at writing. Like everything else, writing is a skill, and the more you practice, the closer you get to mastering it.
If you aim for 100 rejections on the same story, it will obviously not do much for your writing, but if you keep producing in order to submit more, your writing will benefit greatly.
Make good rules for yourself
If you write terrible stories in order to get rejections, you’re missing the point completely. Set up sensible goals for yourself to maximise the outcome of your project. Here are the ones I’m using for 2018:
- Aim for 100 rejections by the end of 2018
- Keep a detailed submission log
- Submit at least 10 different stories over the year
- Don’t stop if you reach 100
- Don’t stop submitting if you get so many yeses that 100 nos seems achievable
Jia Jang’s TED talk on rejection (not writing related)
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert – get this book from your library and read the chapter on being a young writer, submitting fiercely
My blog, where I document my attempt at 100 rejections this year