Every now and again I write a little ditty about rejection letters, because in the world of the writer, they happen with great frequency. As many, many more talented authors than I have waxed about how rejections are good events because they push the writer forward, and are a sign that one is engaging in the publication enterprise.
But rejections sting. They can make us doubt our talent or our message or execution. I’ve heard more than once the dreaded “doesn’t rise above anecdote” when submitting short work. Don’t you dare write only an anecdote, even if our maximum word count is 1,000. Rejection can be frustrating enough that say, a garden variety writer like myself could lose the better part of the afternoon just stewing about the twelve words in the email from the journal editor.
Obsessing over the NOs doesn’t do us any good. With our future productivity and success in mind, let me jot down some metaphors to make rejection more palatable.
It’s like a beacon from an enigmatic civilization, in a galaxy far, far away—Writing, especially if you’re not workshopping a work-in-progress, is a lonely process. We can get lost in the murk of our own minds. As Einstein hypothesized, if a person is in total blackness and weightlessness, she cannot know if she is moving. Rejection letters give us some new information about our work. Even if all we read is a form rejection with no editorial reaction, it is a thin ping from another part of the universe that can help us assess what we need to improve in the piece, especially if it’s not the story’s first rejection.
It’s tough love from a guardian who wants us to be our best—Maybe we’ve gotten sloppy and submitted a piece that’s not quite ready, but we didn’t want to wait for the next open submission period, and the deadline was upon us. Maybe we knew this story was better suited for another literary journal or agent, but we sent it in anyway. Whatever the case, the resulting rejection letter is evidence that we need to get more discipline. That’s a positive thing, even if it hurts.
It’s like having a sex change, only not as complicated or annoying—Seriously, once you decide to live as the other gender, a lot of life’s grievances pale in comparison. I mean, not cancer probably, or surviving an airplane crash, but for the most part, sex change is a bigger mess to deal with. So when that next rejection rolls in—and it will—just tell yourself, “hey, it’s easier to get over than transition!” That’ll put a smile on your face.
It’s like a certificate of authenticity—I know, the standard idea with rejections is that they’re evidence we’re not good writers. “Don’t quit your day job,” blah blah blah. But let’s reframe rejection a little. As I mentioned earlier, we can only receive a rejection note because at some previous point, we engaged with the publishing industry. Plumbers don’t engage publishers. Doctors don’t measure their worth in how many submissions they’ve sent out to editors. Writers do. Getting rejected means we wrote something worth sending in for consideration, and that is evidence that we’re writing. And what do writers do? They write.
And most definitely, they get rejected.