Why bother, you may well ask, risking rejection when you have a perfectly good place to read your work to an appreciative audience every month? Isn’t that enough for most writers? In a word, “No.” If you want a larger audience than the one you have at home; if you long to see your work in someone else’s book or literary journal; if you want a publisher for a large body of work (say a memoir, novel or book of poetry), you must send the work out. And if you send the work out, then you must be ready to have your work rejected.
Recently, I worked long and hard on a policing essay (see the earlier post) for a literary journal honoring law enforcement. Since I was personally invited to submit, and because I happened to fit the criteria as a former cop, I felt sure that my acceptance was a given. Really, I had every confidence that my essay would be accepted. However, the answer turned out to be a no-go. I was caught off guard. I felt and still feel that the piece was well done. I thought it fit the parameters as outlined in the submission guidelines. I revised and had others read and make suggestions, many of which I followed. Where did I go wrong?
Certainly, this is not my first rejection. As a working writer, I’ve opened many a letter beginning, “We’re sorry, but your work doesn’t fit our needs at this time…la, la, la.” No matter how many rejections I receive, after all this time, the words still sting. As you sit quietly weeping and gnashing your teeth, you must also be prepared to hear those old familiar words, often from those who love you best, “You can’t take it personally.” But you can and you will. Your loved ones aren’t putting their hearts and souls on the line. Too often they’re unfamiliar with this sort of rejection, avoiding it whenever possible. It’s you who have taken the chance, the risk, that can lead to a temporarily broken heart, bitter frustration with yourself and the offending publication, and a hard loss of self-confidence. All these feelings are okay to have. They are a natural and, unfortunately, reoccurring phenomena for the real writer.
Short of pulling our hair out or beating our heads against a brick wall, how do we deal with rejection? Give yourself a time limit. Do not pull your hair out, which, if you are my age, may already be thinning. Do not bash your precious brain into anything which may shorten your already fallible memory. Crying is allowed. Cursing loudly is fine. Jumping up and down and punching the air is good for the body and soul. Just don’t waste a lot of time with all this.
I have a rule at my house. I get an hour to be as dramatic as I like. I take it whether my partner likes it or not. They can go work in the yard if it bothers them. If you are not used to rejection, you may need a little longer than an hour. Do try to get over it in a day or two. The old “get back up on the horse and ride” trick is true in this case. Call your writing friends for encouragement and consolation. Let them tell you that you didn’t want to be published in any old “Poetry” magazine anyway. Go ahead and feel your feelings. Don’t, however, let negativity stand in the way of getting back to work in a day or two.
Realize that your piece may well need some work or revision. More likely though, your piece really wasn’t right for what the editor wanted and it simply needs to find its proper home. I have always said that there is a lover for everyone in the world, if only they don’t give up trying to find their match. I feel the same way about writing. There is a place for your essay, your poem, your short story. Believing your work will find its home the first time you send it out is like thinking you will win the lottery the first time you buy a ticket. Surely this has happened to somebody sometime, but has it actually happened to anyone you know? Or anyone you ever even heard of? That’s my point.
Rejections builds our confidence muscle like resistance training builds biceps, triceps and abs. The callous on your thumb and first finger come from using that pen daily; from writing your little heart out and not quitting. This is metaphorical if you use a typewriter or a computer. Persistence is the key to getting published–ask any published author. You must dig deep for the courage to overcome that hour of sadness and self-pity and find another place to send your work. This is the only way to find your match–keep looking. Never quit. Write, revise, put it in the mail. Only this will help heal rejection. At least until the next time. Then you simply begin again.
Remember, all your favorite writers have been rejected; most of them many, many times. If they had given up, you wouldn’t be reading that Pulitzer prize winner today.