The long road to USA Today: lessons in rejection

"You should consider applying to be a USA Today Collegiate Correspondent," my professor told me offhandedly one day. Being the ambitious writer I am, I took his advice immediately and applied. The program has a three-part application process: the application, round two, and round three, the interview round. I filled out the application, missing the optional reference letter because I was in too much of a hurry to have it written, and sat back and waited, checking my email anxiously every day.

I made it.

I'd made it. I was in the second round. It was like a confirmation that my dreams were valid, that I could do this.

I didn't make it into the third round. Before I got a chance to freak out, though, I read the rest of the email: we'd like to offer you a spot in our Contributing Writer Program. The program essentially gave me the keys to the kingdom: an invitation to join to USA Today College Wordpress and the ability to submit any article, any time.

The power. So dizzying. Now all that was left to do was write an article they would like.

They published my first article. Then they published my second article. Things were going well. I was feeling confident, on top of the world, walking on air, powerful.

And that's when it all ground to a screeching halt. They rejected my third article. Then the fourth. Then the fifth.

I decided to give up. Obviously there's something wrong with me. It's probably my ideas--I've used up all the good ideas I'll ever have and my career is over. Maybe it's my writing. Maybe I've been lied to by my parents my whole life and I actually write like a 2-year-old who still calls yogurt "doo-doo." I'll have no future and shall be forced to work as a mopper-upper at McDonald's for the rest of my life. Probably they won't even hire me. All is over. The world has ended. Tragedy is upon me.

You know how it goes. Rejection sucks, and the worst part is what it does to your mind, convincing you there's something wrong with you, and always will be.

It took the combined efforts of my mother and best friend to snap me out of it. A reminder of the number of rejections J.K. Rowling got and a stern lecture on the necessity of rejection helped wake me up. Rejection is a key aspect of any creative career. And it doesn't mean you're not good enough. It just means "not for me, not right now." Someday, though. Someday it will be the right person and the right time and instead of a rejection you'll find your submission accepted. If you keep your mind open you'll even find that you can improve from a rejection. There's a reason your work was declined, and you need to find that reason and make it better. Maybe your article doesn't work with your audience. So learn your audience. Maybe your descriptions aren't strong. Spend time writing descriptions of everything. Maybe it was your delivery. Practice in front of a mirror.

Whatever you do, don't give up. After I cleaned up the mess left by my rager of a pity party, I got back to work. I submitted another article to USA Today College. It'll probably be rejected. And when that happens, I'll look it over, figure out why, and chug on to the next one. Eventually, I will be published again.

And your dreams will come true too.