Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Rejection A Day Keeps the Doctor Away? Or, How To Be Thick-Skinned.

I recently started sending my creative work out in earnest, mostly to literary magazines. My hope is to get a publication by the end of the year. Just one! It’s all that I ask of the lit mag gods. But alas, my inbox (and mailbox) has only been receiving rejection letters. They’re not all “bad,” but they’re all essentially saying the same thing: thanks but no thanks.

As an aside: You know you’re a writer when there’s such a thing as a “good” rejection letter. These usually include some personalized message about how much they liked the piece and it was a tough call and yadda yadda, but… it’s still a no. A softer letdown than some.

So, how am I doing, you ask? Spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, etc-ally? Surprisingly okay. In fact – call me na├»ve, call me crazy – but I’m actually excited about the rejection letters. They feel a bit like battle scars; I fought for these rejections. As I told my roommate recently: “At least it means we’re trying!” She was not convinced. The truth of the matter is that rejection is a basic element of this vocation. If we’re going to be strapped together on this long journey, rejection and I, then why not befriend the beast?

I recently came across this quote from the prolific and well-respected poet William Stafford:

"Now and then a sequence appeals to me for long enough to be teased into something like a poem, and when I feel sufficient conviction, I detach it from the accumulated leaves – my compost heap – and halfheartedly send it around to editors. I never feel sure that I have anything worthy, though I often feel affection for these products; and of all my writing only a very small portion goes forth into the world, and of that portion a large part never gets an editor's approval. I suppose at least nine out of ten pieces which I surmise to be poems find themselves coming home permanently to roost." Taken from Writing the Australian Crawl.

His words are a good reminder that every writer, no matter how great, experiences rejection. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter manuscript was rejected "loads" of times before a publisher took on the project. (I bet those rejecters regret that terribly now.) The sooner I can come to terms with that, the sooner I can move on and do my work. Because that’s all I can do.

Also, I’m realizing that rejection doesn’t hurt as bad when you are keeping busy – creating, revising, trading work with other writers, sending work out. The trick is not to let the grass grow beneath your feet. We can’t let our creative self get stale, waiting for someone to “accept” our work. The most important part is the creation of it in the first place. The rest – the readers – is icing on the cake.

I’m trying to use each rejection as a reminder that writing is revision. But more on that next time. Til then, keep chasing those literary dreams! 

Rumi on the prowl!