After having a successful opening to 2014 where four of my first six story submissions were accepted for publication, I have challenged myself to submit to journals of higher prestige. The result? A big, fat 0-fer. A symphony of NO.
Since May of 2014, I've heard the word "no" more than any other word regarding my writing. It has come from sources far and wide: literary agents who feel my manuscript isn't quite what they are looking for; small journals that insist my writing will find a home; large journals that claim to have read more than the first paragraph even though my friends received the exact same rejection letter; and the ever-so-kind folks at McSweeney's -- an online publication I couldn't recommend enough (their rejection letters are personal, honest, and funny; they clearly read your work and have a sense of humor about telling you it's not right for them).
I'll admit, it gets hard sometimes hearing your work isn't "right" (i.e., "good enough"). At times, it makes a writer bitter. The world doesn't know good literature anymore! When you get past the ego, it makes you feel hopeless. Maybe I'm just not a good writer. I'll never make it. Some people never make it past these two phases.
But recently, I have embraced a new aspect of rejection: self-reflection. It's somewhere in between disappointment and hubris. It is deeper than my writing sucks, and smarter than constantly hitting the "send" button on a piece that isn't getting accepted.
At first, I thought I was already aware of this somewhat obvious notion; however, it is only in recent weeks that I've been able to reflect with enough HONESTY to see that my pride and ego were still getting in the way of true self-reflection.
Reading some of my pieces has shown me a few things about my own work. First, I can be a lazy writer. What I mean by this is that some of my scenes -- those that I find less interesting than others -- can rush to a finish. Kurt Vonnegut once said, "Every sentence must do one of two things: reveal character or advance the action." Sometimes I violate this rule in the interest of "getting the damn thing finished." It's no wonder The Kenyon Review didn't want the story about the time machine that gets built in less than one page...
Second, I can be a bit of a show-off (big surprise, I know). My friend, and talented author, Renee Swindle pointed this out to me after reading the first chapter of my current finished manuscript. Her words, paraphrased, were: sure, it's funny -- but I don't know why I care about any of it. In other words, I was so focused on impressing the reader with my wit and flash that I never considered the notion that maybe my characters, my plot, and my story hadn't reached out to my reader yet. Again, it made total sense why literary agents wouldn't want to jump on board with my writing -- all they could process was what is on the page, not what is in my head.
Rejection isn't easy; rejection is necessary. It can be hard to hear face an unpleasant truth about yourself. The good person, though, accepts it, faces it head on, and finds a way to get a little bit better.
Shouldn't a good writer do the same thing?
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