This week I’ve been afflicted with what I call the rejection blues. I never get much writing done during one of these ‘episodes.’ I have eight stories out (as I’m putting together a collection) and I haven’t gotten an acceptance for a few months. The beginning of this month I was on a streak of promising rejections: The story almost made it, the story is excellent but we don’t publish this type of story, we didn’t take it but would be very pleased to see other work from you. These rejections all came from literary magazines that I highly respect, so this felt pretty good. One of my stories made it through to the next round and now I’m waiting to see. So, I felt like maybe I was breaking through the wall. Or clawing my way further up the ladder.
And then this week, not so good. One of my dear writing friends received a form rejection letter on a stunning story, much to my sincere shock. She is extremely talented. It made me question whether it is possible to get a really good story in a really good literary magazine if the writer’s bio is not whatever the editors consider impressive. It made me angry also and then depressed. If she can’t get that story noticed, what are my chances?
This was followed by form rejections; which don’t bother me except that it is a rejection. But, one of the rejections I received was an email from Submittable and not the magazine itself telling me there was a change in the status of my story to: Declined. I had submitted to the magazine before and received a rejection email, but this time, they couldn’t even bring themselves to choosing the automatic rejection template so that I would get a form rejection email. This to me reads, we hate your writing, don’t ever submit to us ever again. This was followed by an email that another story was being turned down because the magazine doesn’t have enough staff to read all the submissions. They’ve had the story since July 9th. It is unclear if they actually read my story. They hope I will submit again though. Confusing.
But the worse of all, was that I had a story submitted to an anthology and received two emails from an editor that it was a top pick and I’d for sure be hearing from them. I never did. I had to find out that it wasn’t picked by searching around on the Internet (they host a blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a website) until I found a generic notice that the writers who made it in the anthology had already heard from them, so if you haven’t you didn’t. It is an anthology on “rejection.”
I seem to sink into these blues after an intense period of creativity. I go through these maddening cycles after completion of a lot of work (by completion I mean I think the work is ready to submit) whereby I am on a writing high for a week or so and I think it is possible and I think the work I send out is good enough for publication and in the journal I send it to. And I don’t send work willy-nilly. The story has gone through many revisions, gotten feedback, been revised again. And, I do a lot of research: seeing which journals have calls for submissions, what those journals like to publish (I read at least one story they’ve published), reading interviews with their editors or reviews on their magazine, or I have a subscription and I’ve been reading the magazine. I try to be very very careful and make sure my story would be “a good fit” for them. I think that I mostly get this wrong, but I spend hours on this part of my job as a writer.
And then about a week or so goes by, and I sink into despondency. My writing stinks. My stories all stink. No one is going to want that story or this story. I will be completely rejected. And I spend time in this place, confused. Confused because I usually get positive feedback on my work (from my trusted readers and while in school, from my faculty). I like my stories. Actually, I love my stories because they are a part of me, because I have invested myself so deeply into them.
Dear Editor of Prestigious Literary Magazine,
I have sent my short story titled “Please Give Me a Break” to you in the desperate hopes that you will love this story as much as I do, even if my Bio will not impress the readers of your exclusive and prestigious literary magazine. I read your magazine and my story seems like the kind of story that you publish, but this is really, really hard to tell. You might not think so, but to me, it is. I wouldn’t bother you if I didn’t think my story could be in your magazine. Honest to God.
Justawanna Bea Writer
So how to sink out of this hole that I keep tripping into? I usually “quit” literature for a few days. No, I don’t want to read that stunning new novel by the gorgeous super-writer that everyone keeps talking about as if she lays eggs of gold. I’m going to watch Real Housewives of Beverly Hills instead. I’m going to cook a complicated dinner or scrub the grout in my bathroom. I’m going to put a shot of whiskey in my Michigan apple cider. Leave me alone.
Eventually, though, I focus back on my work. I get my head wrapped back around the creation of work rather than the publication of my work and I wait for some response. I emotionally distance myself from the story. After all, it’s just one story. You can always write another one. Once I get three or four rejections on a story I pull the story back out and see if it needs to be revised and then I revise it. Then I get more feedback. Revise it again. When it is ready again, I send it back out, hoping it will land this time. Often, a story has landed after this exact process.
And what’s the worst thing that can happen? An editor will just say no. It’s not up to that editor if I keep writing or not, it’s up to me. It’s up to me to put my butt in the chair every morning and work hard on all of those words that need to pile up together into a good story. It’s up to me to keep pushing myself in the study of my craft: reading fiction and craft books, listening to the feedback I get, spending time in contemplation of my stories and revising them, again and again. The only person who can stop me from becoming a better writer is me and since a life of letters is what I want, I’m just going to keep at it.