Anyone who's ever submitted anything for possible publication somewhere has consequently received a certain dreaded letter, the letter that begins, "We thank you for your submission but...". It's that "but" that tells you everything you need to know--you tried your best, but they don't want your stuff. It happens. It happens to aspiring writers, artists, photographers. It happens to anyone looking to get their works and words and thoughts shared and who are brave enough to put their souls out for the world to appraise, view, and judge. It even happens to those that already have succeeded in this.
It happened to Neil Gaiman, for instance, one of the arguably most successful writers alive. He recently tweeted how just a few weeks ago he submitted a children's story for review and the editors sent it back and said it was too scary for their readers and that it just wasn't the content they were looking for. Thank you, but no.
Neil Gaiman took this rejection with a grain of salt. He even owned up to it by sharing it with his followers. He didn't hide from the critics, but turned to his fans for support and laughs and admittance. It takes a brave soul to admit rejection, but his doing so served to be quite inspiring to those of his followers that had also received rejection letters of their own. Neil Gaiman's rejection letter encouraged his followers to not give in to the frustration of rejection letters, but to remember that they happen to everyone, and to move on.
At least, that's what it did for me--I can't and won't pretend to speak for anyone else on this, but I have a feeling that I am not the only one who looked at that tweet and went "those people are crazy for rejecting Neil Gaiman. He's NeilfuckingGaiman! Weirdos. They'll regret that in the morning."
But of course, Neil Gaiman wasn't always NeilfuckingGaiman. He didn't magically spring up one day on the literary scene and have the world at his feet begging him for his stories and works. No, like anyone worth their stuff, he worked for it. He wrote some stuff, wrote some more, probably threw a lot of it away, and wrote again. And he inspired others to do the same, people like me.
I have received plenty of rejection letters myself. I could keep them in a stack next to my stories and take bets on which stack would be bigger any given day. But I don't. I throw the rejections away, just as the critics tossed my stories. I allow myself to wallow in the shallow muddy pool of self-loathing and doubt, but then I get back on my feet and I write. I write something else and I may send one or two other ones out. I do work, I don't stop.
One way or another, my stories get shared. If the critics don't want them, fine. That's okay. I will try again. And I do. But I make sure to give the rejects their own chance, too. I post them here, for instance, on my blog. My story, "The Envelope" was returned to me by more than one committee and so I posted it here. I put it out into the world, albeit by my own means. But at least I did it. That's the key. That it was done.
The occurrence of a rejection itself does not mean that what was rejected was not in some way good, fulfilling, creative, or worthwhile, to someone or anyone. Neil Gaiman has 2.14 million followers on Twitter that believe his writing, thoughts, and actions are worthwhile and meaningful. One critic did not think so. It is what it is.
Rejection happens to everyone, but it's how it's handled that determines everything beyond that. Pull a Gaiman. Tweet about it, share it, own up to it. And then move on. You have better things to do, and better things to write. So get over it, and then get to it. You, just like Gaiman, have work to do.