I spent some extra free time today during my son's nap doing something that felt amazing.
I counted my rejection letters.
It took a while. In the twenty-first century, counting rejection letters for me meant combing through old emails, searching for all sorts of keywords like "query" and "submission" and "not the right fit for us". It also meant opening up an old shoebox that's been collecting snail mail rejections since 2007. Most of them say something along the lines of "thank you, but no". But a few of them had personalized rejections, or "please send us the first fifty pages" next to another envelope with "Thank you for sending us the first fifty pages, but no."
It was pretty gratifying, actually, to see how many places I've sent things. I totally forgot, for instance, that I'd sent several stories to Cemetery Dance once upon a time. It was also nice to revisit old works of fiction, both long and short, that I can look at now with a knowing eye for what was wrong with my writing at the time.
The coolest part of all was calculating how many rejections I've amassed in all. I have an ESTIMATED final count of.... drumroll, please.......
.... 425 rejection letters.
It breaks down in a very internet-influenced way. 376 of them are E-rejections, while only 49 are snail mail rejections. The numbers also show that I gravitate more towards writing novels than short stories, as 300+ are queries to agents rathen than submissions to literary magazines.
It's also worth noting that the actual number of rejections I've received might be higher. For instance, it doesn't include anything before 2007, which was when I truly started writing and submitting my work regularly and collecting snail mail rejections in a little shoebox. This wouldn't add on much, but it would add something.
All of this makes me think that rejection letters, as hurtful as they are at the time, really are a good sign. If you're getting them, it means you haven't given up. You're taking an extra step that the majority of people who care about words enough to make some of their own are afraid to do. If your response to a rejection letter is, "Better get started on the next one," then you're not really losing out at all.
I've long forgotten who gave me the advice that "every rejection letter you receive is one rejection closer to yes", but I do feel I owe them a big thank you, or at least a really big cookie.