Can We Just Get Honest About Rejection?

I walked out on the porch and they all stopped talking. Three sets of eyes looked up at me from the sidewalk. I heard them talking about going out for lunch a few minutes before inside the house and had come out on the porch to ask if I could join them. We had been meeting every Saturday morning to talk about our writing for months now and I assumed they liked me enough to invite me along.

In an instant, I knew I wasn’t included. Fearing rejection before I even made the effort, I said goodbye and walked to my car. no-thanks

Years later. An email. Hello Catherine. Thank you for sending us … We won’t be able … We wish you the best …

An email. Dear Catherine. We appreciate the chance to … but … With all thanks and best wishes.

An email. Dear Catherine, Thank you so much for submitting … Unfortunately, we are going to pass this time … All the best.

Denied. Turned down. Rebuffed. Whatever you call rejection, I’m used to it. So used to it, that I don’t avoid it like I used to. Not having my writing accepted is part of trying to put it out there. But each email a little sting in the heart. It feels the same in my body as it felt that first warm day of spring on the sidewalk. In the same way, what didn’t get said that day was what hurt the most.

Then one day, an email. “Thanks so much for letting us see your ‘weather’ submission. Unfortunately, it has not been selected for publication on this occasion. ….” Okay, there are nine more paragraphs! Where’s the kiss off?

Rejection is usually short. It saves the rejector and the one being rejected pain and embarrassment. But this  Dear John letter continues. The email is describing the judge, her judging process, and it’s even telling me about the type of pieces the publication received. Suddenly I don’t feel so bad anymore.

I submitted to Mslexia back in March for one of their themes based on weather. I love this magazine and even though it’s based in the UK, I wanted to give it a shot. As I read the rejection email I learn that most of the submissions were about rain and were set in a rural setting. Some focused on cityscapes, as mine did. The email said those provided some memorable images, which I like to imagine mine did.

The email said that the biggest problem they saw in rejected poems and stories was that they fell a little flat.  Stories needed more story arc, instead of being anecdotal, and poems needed an extra layer of meaning or reflection. A number of submissions also lacked clarity.

The email also talked about avoiding weather clichés. It ended by letting me know that they can’t discuss individual details of my submission, but that the judge will have a full essay in the next issue discussing the judge’s process. They also discuss the editorial need to use contrasting pieces and that they can only place 10 pieces in each issue.

Without telling me exactly what I always thought I wanted to hear, the email told me everything I need to in the most helpful way possible. Unlike the girls on the sidewalk and all the other rejections by every other name, I don’t have to guess why I wasn’t invited to sit at the table.

I know some of what the letter told me — that being rejected is not always about me — sometimes it’s about the things I cannot know or predict. Logically, I know not to take it personally, but I usually do regress to that girl on the sidewalk wondering why no one wants to be friends with me. But somehow this letter does help me get past the feeling that being rejected is always about me.

The email ends with a plea to not give up.  It reminds me that rejection is an integral part of each writer’s life and that those that succeed are those that keep going. I have heard this advice before, but I print the email out and save it. It is one of the most positive and helpful emails I have ever received.

The letter encourages me along as I reread and rework my draft. I  make sure I don’t use clichés, and that my story is more than an anecdote. And I can’t wait to read the writers that did get placed to see what I can learn from them. I will send my piece out again. If it gets rejected again, I can only hope for such a beautiful rejection. If not, I will try again.

Image of grocery carts.





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  1. Christine Betts

    It is a matter of getting used to it, isn’t it? The one kind we can’t really get used to is what I call ‘unconditional rejection’. The girls at school who ‘just didn’t think I fit in with them’. The family members who went to a show but didn’t invite me ‘because they just didn’t think of me’. It wasn’t that they thought I wouldn’t like it, they didn’t ‘think of me’. But here I am, an artist and writer and basically get rejected for a ‘living’ hahaha.

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