I’ve heard writers need to have thick skin. I’ve always agreed. But I’m starting to think that I need layers and layers of skin that I can shed, like a snake that brushes away disappointment.
Then again, my skin will need to absorb a lot too. Like a solar panel taking in sunlight. I suppose it’s fairly obvious now. I need skin that is a solar-panel-snake-hybrid.
The “thick skin” metaphor is one all writers are familiar with. Don’t let rejection, disappointment, and all their cousins get to you… not too much anyway. Let it bounce off your armored skin. As a writer, you will get TONS of rejection, even if you are fantastic. It’s just the name of the game. You cannot walk out there and expect to write a story and instantly see success. Or even three stories. Or 10.
It takes so much rejection (and not even rejection… but just… not-success) before you can succeed. Michael Jordan won six championships… he didn’t even win the first one until his seventh season. LeBron James has won four championships… he didn’t win his first one until his ninth season. Tom Brady… is an anomaly.
Of course I’d make a sports analogy.
But in writing, and anything else you’re trying to succeed in, I understand that it takes putting in a lot of work. I also understand, even if I put in a lot of work, I’m still not guaranteed anything in this highly competitive field. But it’s a long, long road to success, filled with turns, and rejection emails, news of other writers succeeding, more turns, lots of waiting, and more rejection.
It’s not for the faint of heart. Nor the thin of skin.
That doesn’t make it any easier. And success can mean many things. I shoot for the stars, but I’ve learned to try to aim for some space stations along the way as well. My only goal cannot be a distant, bright, shining star. It’s too much to put everything into one sole goal. And what if I never reach it? What would that make my life? Nothing but a disappointment? That’s not true, no one should feel that way, I can’t allow myself to feel that way. There needs to be attainable goals on the way to less attainable goals on the way to damn-near-impossible-to-achieve-goals.
I won’t, and I don’t think any aspiring writer will, tell you that I wouldn’t want to hit it big. Sell a book. Be able to start earning top dollar for my stories. Be able to quit my job (oh, please let me not have to attend another meeting where we have to “circle back on an email” and “ping someone for a request” and “be on the lookout for a response from such-and-such.”) That’s what I’m aiming for. That’s my brightest star. Making a living as a writer. Selling stories. Being able to have my stories reach many. After all, that’s why we write, right?
For me, I write to tell stories, to entertain, to send along a message, to make you laugh, to make you cry, to make you think, all of that. So I want my stories to reach as many as they can. Yeah, I’d love to get paid for that. I’d love for that to be my living. But it isn’t the only thing I look at as being a success. But the main goal, all these steps along the way, that is what I want the most. So it’s tough to deal with that rejection.
Submitting to publications only to get rejected. Entering contests and not winning. When I see those chosen for publications or those who win contests, they are extremely deserving. I know why they won. Their stories are incredible. And I do feel happy for them. Especially writers whose work I’ve read. But I still want to see my name there one of these days.
But nothing is guaranteed. I am guaranteed nothing and I am owed nothing. Who am I? I am someone who writes and wants their work recognized. Well, my work better be damn good or else no one will recognize it. I don’t deserve recognition “because I tried.” I don’t deserve recognition “because I’ve submitted to dozens of publications and contests for two years and shouldn’t I win something already?” I’ll deserve recognition when I deserve it. And all these other writers out here are doing the same thing. They’re in the same place as me. They could write what I’m writing now and it would be just as true. I’m not special because I decided to put pen to paper… or fingers to keyboard, I suppose.
Still, that doesn’t make it any easier. That’s why I need skin that can absorb and can shed. I need that solar-panel-snake-hybrid skin. I need to absorb the good. I need to absorb the critiques that will help me grow as a writer. But goddamn it do I need to shed away this scar tissue. Each time I get a rejection email or don’t win a contest, and I’ll admit, some of them hurt a bit. I want them so bad. Some hurt even more. I need to shed away that pain. Thick skin would help but then nothing would get through. I want to let the good through, shed away the bad, move on.
The rejections stay with me. Maybe just writing this here will let me shed them away. I didn’t win, I didn’t get accepted, put it out here, leave that snakeskin in the grass. Move on.
But don’t move on entirely. I need to remember the rejections so I remember how badly I want it. So it will fuel me even more. You hear those stories about someone getting turned down repeatedly and then finally something hits! Something is accepted! Something becomes a success! I want that to be my story.
I’ve kept track. Maybe it’s partially for myself. Maybe it can serve as motivation for others. Because it really is hard and it really does take A LOT of rejection before reaching success. And you may hear that and think you understand it… but still may not even fully understand it. Hell, maybe I don’t even fully understand it.
I won’t include my screenwriting years and the submissions and the “coming up short.” That’s a lot of extra to pile on here. But in the past couple years, writing short stories, I have now submitted to 70 different contests and publications. 6 are still pending answers. Of the other 64… you guessed it… not a one. Not one acceptance, not one win, not one runner up. 0/64. However, I’ve moved onto a second round for 3 of those!
One was a contest on Vocal. The big end of the year contest. They got over 13,000 submissions, I placed in the top 1,000 and moved on to the next round, where I ultimately was not one of the top 25 winners. But still, that made me feel incredible. I did a little quick math. The top 1,000 out of 13,000 put me in the top 8% roughly. That’s a really good feeling. That makes me feel like I’m heading in the right direction. That is a success in itself. That story, “Synthetic Apparitions” a sci-fi/fantasy blend that I’m quite proud of.
I also submitted my story “Mojitos and Samosas” to the publication Apparition Lit originally. It made it to the second round. But ultimately not accepted. That felt good… except it was the same email telling me I moved on to the second round that told me I wasn’t accepted. I celebrated mid-sentence… before continuing on… that was a nice seven seconds of success. Would’ve loved to have been able to celebrate that one a little longer. Still… a success. Also proud of that story.
Another, “Fuel Is Thicker Than Water” I submitted to the Prose Launchpad competition. Moved on to the second round, but that was it. Proud of that one… AND I got about a month to celebrate that.
So, I’m heading in the right direction, I think. I could look at it as 64 failures. Or I could look at it as 3 successes, even if not ultimate successes. I could also look at it as 64 instances where I had a good deal of positive to absorb and a good deal of heartbreak to take in, deal with, shed free, and leave in my trail as I slither along… hmm, I don’t love where that metaphor ended up.
And I’ve been lucky enough that, on Vocal, 7 of my stories in the last few months have been featured as top stories. That’s recognition. That’s success. Each one makes me feel oh so damn good. As do all the reads and comments. And occasionally seeing my face show up as a Top Creator makes me smile bigger than the goofy smile in my profile picture.
I don’t want thick skin for that. I want the solar panel portion of my hybrid, futuristic skin to be able to absorb that. Feed my ego. Feed my motivation. Soak in that sunlight and transform it into energy and inspiration.
So, I got a lot of goals in mind. I got a lot of work in mind. Along with the short stories, short story collections, novels, etc. I’ll have to keep working hard on all of it. And I’ll have to absorb the useful and helpful bits I come across. But my snake skin is going to have to shed away the rejection. Expose a new layer of skin to the sunlight above, ready to absorb, ready to write, and hoping that maybe that next submission, that next contest, just maybe I’ll see my name pop up. Just maybe I’ll have written something that can achieve that ultimate recognition. Knowing it isn’t completely necessary. But also knowing I want it so damn bad.
Like the old saying says, “65th time’s a charm.”
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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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