Hello Rejection, My Old Friend

I was working working on a companion piece to last week’s Tips for Getting Over Nonfiction Writer’s Block when I got an email.

Any writer – author, journalist or poet – who has work out in the submission pipeline, knows the email moment. The notification pops up on your phone or in your inbox and your heart takes a wild, insane ride. First it goes up – way too high up – as your expectations soar. Then, you ground yourself, reminders of just how much the deck is stacked against you flit through your mind. Your heart plummets. Finally, finally, you get the email open – your eyes scan, searching for those all important words – pleased, unfortunately, with regret.

It does get easier. I have gotten a lot of rejections. In fact, I pride myself on being pretty good at divorcing the rejection of my work from the rejection of me as a person. There are a thousand reasons why a submission might not fit with a publishing house, magazine or newspaper and none of them have to do with my personality. As of late, the rejections have mostly been for agent requests. Given that agents are very specialized, those thanks but no thanks have been rolling off my back pretty easily – though a few weeks back I got six rejections in five days, and one was at midnight on Friday. That was tough, give a girl a break.

So, I get an email.

Automatically, I know this is a bad sign. This publishing house will call if they want to move your manuscript forward. I know this, but I let myself hope anyway.

It is a very constructive rejection. It is a hopeful and kind and that almost makes it worse. Like, if I had just been a little better at this, if I had changed that one element of my 80,000 word manuscript, maybe it would have been enough.

Who knows? I’d like to say who cares, but I do care. It’s less about boo hoo, woe is me, no one likes my writing and more about the constant struggle to move forward with my career. If this publishing house had accepted me, that would have been it. But, since they didn’t, I’m back where I was and without even the hope or potential of this acceptance to make me feel like I might be working towards something.

Alright. So what do we do?

Well, this is it. This is the part of being a writer that sucks so much worse than the movies show. This part hurts.

Suck it up buttercup.

This is as much a part of being a writer as putting the words to the page. It’s as much a part of being a writer as the late night edits and the early morning social media marketing. This as much a part of being a writer as every submission, every query letter, every synopsis. These are the writer’s twelve labors, the baptism by fire, the hot coals we have to cross in order to make this our careers. If it were easy, if there was a path made of smooth, cool stones to cross this lake of fire, then everyone would. Every single kid from your creative writing classes would be a writer. Every freshman who worked on the school paper would write for New York Magazine. But it’s not easy. There is no clear path. Rejections suck.

But they don’t kill you. It’s easy to be a writer on the day when the words flow and the Amazon rankings spike. It’s easy to be a writer at the party, where people ask you cool questions about your cool and mysterious job. It’s not those easy days that separate the weak from the strong, the successful from the I could have been a writer. It’s not the easy days. It’s the days like these.

So we pick ourselves up. We submit again. We edit, we query and we submit again. We submit again. No one said the life of a writer was going to be easy. But, if we’re still standing at the end of all this, it might just be worth it. ♦

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