So, we’re at the end of summer. We’re thinking back on all the lounging and the sunburns and the (road)trips and the lemonade and the evenings loud with crickets. Perhaps we’re already looking ahead to the smoky oranges of fall, or we’ve even begun to think of the long, slow crawl through winter. For now, though, yes, we’ll thank the phlox for staying in bloom and global weirding for several more days requiring the frequent application of our deodorant.
It may not, then, in the clutch of gratitude and transition, seem like a good season to think about rejection. But, really, now’s the perfect time—when things are still boldly alive and yielding (well, hi there, tomatoes)…when schools everywhere are opening their doors and students little and large alike clean up their shoes and sling on their backpacks…when all over this world literary journals and creative writing contests announce their calls and windows for submission….
Send us your work! Give us your best! Come on, let us reject you!
Cynical? Certainly. True? Sadly. I remind myself and my students and my husband and any other writers I know all the time: unless you’re some kind of crazy thrilling rock star writer, you’ll average 15-20 rejections—or more—for every 1 acceptance. Which means, nitty-gritty: a whole lot of rejection.
I get a rejection letter about once a week, all year round. I get my poetry rejected, my short stories rejected, my nonfiction rejected. And now, thanks to email, I not only get rejected in my own house, fresh from the mail slot, I also get rejected in my office, in the coffeehouse, on a train, in the rain, at the park, in the dark! I get rejected everywhere; I get rejected in thin air; I get rejected avec mon frère! And no. I do not like green eggs and ham; I do not like rejection spam:
Thank you for your recent submission to FillintheBlank Review. Although we are not able to use your work at this time, we thank you for allowing us to consider it and wish you luck in placing it.
It’s the littlest bit nicer when it opens this way:
Dear Writer Susanna,
And closes this way:
The Editors Sam So-n-So p.s. “Moon over Wichita” came close! Please try us again….
But even these personal touches can’t undo the harsh end-of-the-day truth: I got rejected. A-gain.
So here’s my confession. I think rejection is good for us. And by us I mean not only writers; I mean all artists; I mean human beings generally. Why? When rejection comes you have to face yourself. You have to have a hard conversation with yourself. If you’re anything like me, it goes this way:
“Gripes! I thought…well, gripes. I thought that was a good poem.”
“Who says it isn’t? Or—couldn’t be?”
“GRIPES! Am I really not done with it? Do I really have to revise again?”
“Just take a look. If they truly liked ‘Moon over Wichita’ then maybe it just needs the right reader(s); you could send it to XYZ Review. Or maybe you should look it over again. Give it a fresh tweaking. Even a fresh re-seeing.”
“What was that?”
“Still didn’t quite catch that.”
“Bluhhhhhokay-okay-okay. I’ll sit down with ‘Moon Over Wichita’—or at least send it out again. Urf. Urf! Gripes!”
Rejection makes me whine. Rejection makes me groan. Rejection makes me a better, tougher, wiser writer. And deep down in my mopey sinews, it keeps me just off-kilter enough: my ego sheds a few pounds; my center re-centers. I roll my eyes and roll back my shoulders because I like the challenge of being rejected, and (quite begrudgingly) I like that it reminds me with a slight and serious sting where my real treasure is, with whom my real identity is, where my real value lies. It’s somehow a reminder not to give up and a reminder that I can give it everything I’ve got and I still won’t get (exactly) (or enough of) what I’m truly reaching for.
And with that in mind, I can sit down and work on “Moon over Wichita.” I can lick the stamp on my SASE—or hit “Enter” on the submission screen—and hope that this time will be my 1 in 20. More importantly, I can hope that what I sent off is a better piece of writing than it was before. So thanks, FillintheBlank Review. Gripes, it hurts so good.
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I must change my life, I thought. Is this what Rilke meant? That I should “get healthy?” I should eat better, drink better? I jumped to this conclusion in the aisle at my grocery store.
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