In high school I was an associate editor for our school’s art and lit magazine, Pen & Ink. We’d meet weekly to review submissions under the tutelage of our faculty advisor, whose love and gift for teaching English had him engaging both special-ed ninth grade English students and seniors in AP Humanities. He’d sit back and respectfully listen to our staff’s thoughtful conversations about the submissions, jumping in every now-and-then with a suggestion or to humorously call out overly indulgent poetic language like, “…lurked menacingly on the penumbra.”
In our editorial process, votes for submissions fell into three categories: in-as-is, revisions, or formed, meaning rejected. I never understood why we used the word, “formed” for rejected besides the fact that it sounds more literary and less like what might happen if you ask a girl to the prom. Over 15 years later, I now think our dear advisor probably introduced the term, possibly referring to sending a form letter of rejection. You know those letters. I know those letters. Sometimes, you’re sure they’ve come back before your submission could’ve possibly been delivered. Sometimes they take long enough to come that, in the interim, you think, “Maybe they loved it and they’re just waiting to tell me and all the other contributors about our acceptance at the same time.” A good writer friend of mine (read: good friend and good writer) has a tradition of chasing each rejection letter with a cocktail called The Bitter Pill. Whatever your method of dealing with it, rejection is a bed all writers find ourselves in at some point.
One of the best writings I’ve ever come across on the topic is by novelist Catherine Ryan Hyde, published on Glimmer Train Press’s site roughly six years ago. For me, her appeal to the rational and realistic possibilities behind rejection has really helped me keep my proverbial chin up with each ‘nay’ I receive. I highly recommend you copy and paste it into a document and save it in your writing folder.
Another good book on dealing with negativity and criticism in writing is Write Mind by Eric Maisel, Ph.D. This one catalogs the many attitudes—conscious and subconscious—that plague every creative and confronts them immediately with a right, or more useful attitude. For example: Wrong Mind: “One hundred and fifty-three editors have rejected my novel. Therefore, I will never write again.” Right Mind: “I will write many novels, some of which will be published.”
So, on this Monday morning, here’s to standing up in the face of rejection—everything it means (this piece needs some tightening up) and doesn’t mean (I am unworthy of human love). Write well.
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