• Thomas Gaffney

Rejection and the Impostor Syndrome

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

This is going to be a hard one to write…

The R stands for some (only some) of the rejections I've received for my work. These were stories written for school where I could see my writing getting better from the original collection of short stories I published. When Fraxinus Americana or FEEEEENIX got rejected from many, many places, I was disheartened but chalked it up to still being a novice writer getting my feet wet. Hell, at that point, I never even submitted any of my work to be critiqued by anyone professional. I had my wife read them for grammatical errors and plotholes. I took my rejections and printed them out and hung them on my Wall of Motivation. I took them in stride and promised not to let them get me down. And they didn't.

But then I got better. Or at least, I thought I had. And, as you can see from the above screenshot, I submitted a story from school to an online publication. I was proud of it! I had several drafts of it critiqued by my teacher and my classmates before I had my wife put eyes on it.

And it was rejected in only four days with a form email.

That was heartbreaking. And it got a little worse before it got better. I don't remember exactly how many places I had submitted it to (I wasn't using Duotrope and its submission tracker fully yet at that point), but I believe all except two had rejected it. One of them did shortlist it before ultimately rejecting it—but it was still a rejection. Then, finally, the first step in what is shaping up to be a long and arduous journey was taken. I had an acceptance email. The editor from Theme of Absence wrote me to ask if LUCKY was still available and if I would sell it to them for publication. Of course, I said, "YES!"

There are still days I don't feel like a writer. When that happens, I go to the site and look up my story. I look up my name. There I am, a writer on their permanent list of writers. A story forever archived in their November 2020 collection. No matter what anyone says about me or my writing, that will never go away. So, I got to work on the next story for school. And, IMHO, it was better than LUCKY. I skipped sending that one to Theme of Absence, hoping to expand the publications I appeared in—and got more rejections. I felt that each time I took a step forward, I took two more backward. But then, I got an acceptance from a new player in the publication game.

The Dread Machine agreed to publish EVE. And with that, I could even upgrade my membership in the Horror Writers Association to Affiliate Writer. I'm now listed in their database of horror writers as an active member and a writer. It still doesn't feel real. I still feel embarrassed to have people read my writing. I think I'm pretending to be something I'm not, and the Writing Police™ will take away my computer and all my drafts someday.

I wish I could tell you how to get rid of the Impostor Syndrome. I wish I could get rid of it myself. But I don't know if it ever goes away. You just learn to tuck it somewhere deep and focus on the tangibles in front of you. That finished manuscript. Those short stories you let your friends read. That published poem. Anything that you can look at, or hold in your hands, and say, "I made this." Even something as simple as a blog post.

I made this.

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