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Writers on Writing: Selected Quotations


…I once decorated a guest bathroom all with rejection slips. John Jerome

I have collected enough rejection slips for my short stories to paper four or five good sized rooms. During that rejection slip period I was always reading the autobiography of writers, and in Arthur Train’s My Day in Court I found a piece of rather wonderful advice. He said that if he were a beginning writer one of the things that he would do would be to enter Mabel L. Robinson’s course in the short story at Columbia University. Needless to say I promptly applied for admission to the class. Ann Petry

What writer doesn’t know the scene of fetching his or her precious story from the mailbox and then brooding over the rejection slip, analyzing it with a heightened sense of meaning…. Janet Fitch

…when you get used to being disappointed, the recovery time gets shorter, the time you need before you get back to work gets shorter and shorter. Colson Whitehead

Failure is inevitable for the writer. I don’t care who he is, or how great he is, or what he’s written. Sooner or later he’s going to flop and everybody who admired him will try to write him off as a bum. Irwin Shaw

….rejections don’t distress me for various reasons: one of them is that some of fiction many years ago was not only published but reprinted, although it was poor or no good at all. The editors who printed the work suffered from the same poor judgment as I did…. Delmore Schweartz

Some degree of self-doubt is essential to a writer’s equilibrium. The rejection of a manuscript, though painful, is also proof that (one’s) work is being subjected to serious consideration, and that the writing that was not rejected must therefore be successful. Where there is nothing but rejections, then the writer can only conclude that he is a misunderstood genius or should be in another line of work. William Maxwell

…a rejection…may well reflect more unfavorably on the editor’s ability than on yours. Judith Appelbaum

Rejection is part of any creative act. To overcome, I immediately get back to the keyboard and work harder. Then I think of Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack London, all of whom were rejected hundreds of times. Cork Millner

Rejection follows rejection….You see the haunting thought comes that perhaps I have been kidding myself all these years, myself and other people—that I have nothing to say or no art in saying nothing. John Steinbeck

One thing about failing repeatedly: If you’re still doing it after you’ve failed that much, you really mean it. Alice Sebold

A rejection of a story is not a rejection of the writer. It is no crime to be rejected or even a sin. Editors do not hate a writer when they reject a manuscript and do not therefore plot the writer’s destruction. Isaac Asimov

The worst job in the world is writing. You’re alone, you’re with yourself, and either you trust your own judgment or you don’t. And if your judgment is questioned enough times, you begin to question your own judgment as a writer. If enough people turn you down, you begin to question your own skill. Who else do you have to depend on? It’s you against them. Alan Landsburg

And why should any man who writes, even if he writes things immortal, nurse anger at the world’s neglect? Who asked him to publish? Who promised him a hearing? Who has broken faith with him? If my shoemaker turns me out an excellent pair of boots, and I, in some mood of cantankerous unreason, throw them back upon his hands, the man has just cause for complaint. But your poem, your novel, who bargained with you for it? If it is honest journey-work, yet lacks purchasers, at most you may call yourself a hapless tradesman. If it came from on high, with what decency do you fret and fume because it is not paid for in heavy cash? For the work of a man’s mind there is one test, and one alone, the judgment of generations yet unborn. If you have written a great book, the world will come to know it. But you don’t care for posthumous glory. You want to enjoy fame in a comfortable armchair. Oh, that is quite another thing. George Gissing

Next to come to mind (as a bad memory) was my original literary agent delivering her verdict on my first novel. Don’t want to show it to anyone, she said. Why not? It’s a bad book. Have to think of your reputation as well as mine. Why bad? It falls between the stools, halfway betwixt mainstream and mystery. No way to promote it. And where does the bookseller shelve it? Stick to nonfiction, said my agent. I can sell that for you. How about me rewriting it? Well, if you do, get rid of the Indian stuff. Tony Hillerman

The world of publishing is a potentially hostile environment, especially for the writer. Jeff Herman

Virtually all magazines use printed rejection slips. Some make their points succinctly, with little attempt to soften the blow. The basic message is straightforward: “We’ve decided not to publish your story.” Some rejection forms make a half hearted effort to explain away the obvious: “We’re not reading fiction for the time being,” or “another editor my think differently.”… C. Michael Curtis

Don’t take rejection slips too seriously. I don’t think they ought to send them out at all. Frank O’Connor

I have had very few rejections in a long life of writing, and I have always preferred the honesty and directness of editors who said (1) “I don’t like this,” or (2) “This is not suitable for us.” This is a good style to adopt, inoffensive to any sensible author and an effective disguise for their own dubious motives and astounding snobbery. Katherine Anne Porter

My career was more fortunate than a lot of people’s. I published first when I was eighteen….Before that I picked up about sixty rejection slips. A lot of guys pick up 400, 500, or something like that. Stephen King

In some cases, editors write a sentence or two at the bottom of the rejection (letter). Most writers make the mistake of interpreting this as a sign of encouragement. Actually, the editor is merely showing you some kindness. After poring over your manuscript…these editors can recognize that you have a somewhat advanced case of writing, along with an accompanying desire for fame, and that a simple form rejection might send you running amok in a bookstore…. Robin Hemley

If you wrap all your hopes up in being accepted quickly by the first one or two places you submit to, you’re likely to get discouraged and quit….If you see writing as a long-term commitment, you realize that there are going to be periods of rejection and discouragement. That’s just part of it. Then you’re much likely to stick to it and to survive in the long run as a writer. Scott Sanders

This page was last updated on: Tuesday, January 22, 2008

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A. James Fisher
Dept. of Political Science & Criminal Justice, 146 Hendricks Hall
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Edinboro, PA 16444
e-mail: jfisher@edinboro.edu blog: http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com