Embracing Rejection -- Part Two

Embracing Rejection -- Part Two

Don't become a victim of your own success. But be sure you know what "success" actually is!

After a long spell in which I submitted nothing (see part one of this discussion), I began sending off my writing again. And almost immediately, I found an editor who wanted not one, but two of my poems. And the publication paid in actual dollars, not just copies!

And what does an author do when he or she finds this kind of success? Naturally, I questioned my judgment. Clearly I had aimed too low. Clearly there were greater things in store for me, and I only needed to reach for the stars. My biggest risk, I thought, is that I would sell my genius too cheaply. My work would appear in journals that were lesser lights in the literary universe, and these were not poems that belonged under a bushel basket in some university library.

And so, for a long while after that, I submitted only to the kinds of journals that I had once imagined beyond my reach, but was now certain were within my grasp. And as a result, I didn't publish anything else for a long time.

When I got published by another journal, I was much more grateful. And this allowed my success to sustain me instead of eat at me.

It has also meant that I became much more careful about where I submitted my work. I have in mind a hierarchy of journals (you should, too). And I tend to send the poems I think are my best to those journals first. That way, they get their shot before I entertain other possibilities. And I don't entertain any journal in which I wouldn't be proud to find my poetry.

But this approach has also meant that I have had to come to terms with rejection. Because now I know myself better. I have thin skin, so I don't like rejection. But I also don't want a success that doesn't matter. And that means that I have to be clear about what matters. To me. The money didn't matter, but being considered alongside poetry I admired--and then having my work find a home there--that mattered. And if achieving that success requires me to brace myself for rejection, then I brace myself. It's part of the deal.

Each of us needs to define what is meaningful to us. For me, that means being tested against journals with some standing in the literary community. For you, it likely means something else. But if you don't know what you are aiming for, you are just shooting in the dark.

Embracing Rejection--Part One

Embracing Rejection--Part One

When I first decided to write, I bought a typewriter (a Sears knockoff of the IBM Selectric I really wanted), and I went to work. In reasonably short order, I finished a short story and sent it off to a literary journal of some reputation. And it was--as you might guess--rejected.

No big deal, right? But I had no experience in this kind of thing, so I had no idea what to expect or how to prepare myself for what happened. And what happened was that the editor wrote a rather lengthy response to the piece, saying how much he liked much of it, but that he thought a key episode in the story seemed too far-fetched to be believed.

This was (as you know, and as I now have figured out for myself) a gift. I was close to success! But it didn't feel that way to me.

You see, the part he couldn't believe was the only part of the story I had actually drawn from my own personal experience. And so I dismissed the editor as an idiot, and I decided that the story was too good for him--and for anyone else for that matter.

I didn't submit any writing again for a long time.

You know you are going to be rejected.  A lot. Everyone tells you so. So you brace yourself and hope that You Are Different. But likely, you will have to slug your way out of the slush pile like everyone else.

That's what makes the small victories so precious--all the rejection and self doubt that led to them. But without the doubts to test you, how would you learn that this really matters? And without the rejection, how would the success be meaningful.

But for God's sake--if someone actually comments on your work, pay attention! And get back to it as soon as you can. It's as close to a sign as you are likely to receive that someone out there is interested.

New book in the works.

New book in the works.

A book is coming out early next year. Stay tuned for more details!