On Rejection

Rejection letter1I am a failure when my goal is to get published. When I revise my goal to gathering as many rejections as I can, I become an overnight success.

I consider revising my goal to obtain not just a form rejection, but a personal rejection. Maybe even one day some advice or an edit, but I’m not quite ready to become a failure again. Just keep the bar low, I tell myself. Seek only rejection. Unqualified rejection.

I’m waiting on a couple of rejection letters, I tell my husband. Where from this time, he asks, and I tell him. Sure enough, they trickle in, sometimes in the mailbox, sometimes via email.

In the mailbox, there’s little question. When you’re staring at an envelope addressed to yourself in your own handwriting, you just kind of know what it is. I open it and pull out the standard rejection: Your piece is not right for our publication.

Bullshit, I think. Or sometimes, you’ll rue the day. But mostly I know my writing just isn’t good enough yet, and that rejection—and the writing itself—is part of the process that will change that. Someday. Someday soon, I hope.

In my email, I’ll see the name of the publication in the “from” column, and the name of my piece in the “subject” column. And there is some question. Because this is not a self-addressed, self-stamped envelope. I get many, many, many, many rejections (that why I’m such a success, remember?) and this one is probably no different, but maybe, just maybe. After all, it’s very late in the process for this publication. And I read somewhere that the later the response, the better the chance that the editors are actually considering your piece.   So there is hope.

So I don’t open it right away. I go about my typical email routine, deleting the obvious marketing ones, reading the anecdotes from my sister, the missives from my boss.

And then I can’t stand it anymore. My finger hovers over the touch pad for a second more, and then I tap it to open the message. And it’s . . .

. . . a knife to the heart.

In the form of a personal rejection of the nicest sort, with a tone of kindness I never dreamed possible in an email. My piece was among those in the final group considered for publication. But.   And they hope to see more of my writing in the future.

I see now that the personal rejection is much more of a bummer than your form rejection. The form rejection is a short harsh buzzer, like in a TV game show when the contestant guesses wrong. BRRNT! Over. Done. On to the next thing.

The personal rejection lets you know that you just… didn’t… quite… get there. Others were just… that… much… better.

Which drives me back to my submission and I go over it again with an even finer toothed comb than before and then torment myself. If I’d switched those two words around. If I hadn’t used quotation marks there. If I’d wanted it more. If I hadn’t slugged that kid in kindergarten. If I were a better person.

 If I were a better writer. The thing is filled with flaws. Tension and emotion, yes. But little flaws too. So while I imagine this editor making a case for my piece, I picture all the other editors around the table fighting for their writers, also. Writers whose essays wouldn’t need quite as much work.

So it’s back to the writing desk. Writing and rewriting. Visioning and re-visioning. Submitting.

I’m waiting on a few new rejections, I tell my husband. Where from, he asks, and I tell him.