Yeah. Me too.
This week I received three.
I can tell you that these rejections are actually a good sign because they are proof I sent out work when normally I just think about sending out work; evidence that I actually put together manuscripts of poems and submitted them to journals, presses, or contests instead of just creating yet another intricate spreadsheet mapping out deadlines, markets, and reading fees.
I can tell you that these rejections aren’t personal, but really, is there anything more personal than one’s art? Still, creative writing isn’t about writing to the whims and specifications of an editor, but writing what one is compelled to write. What an editor likes has little to do with it.
Finally, I could tell you that this business requires thick skin, except that I believe being a good creative writer requires getting in touch with one’s vulnerability and building connections with others, not developing thicker skin.
So it boils down to finding ways of normalizing rejection so that we can move on as writers, and spouses, and teachers, and whatever other roles we must fill in our daily lives; it comes down to trying on new perspectives and ways of viewing what we do so we can keep doing it. Here, then, are a few perspectives I think are worth considering:
- Cultivate a positive mindset before sending out work. Be mindful rather than hasty as you carefully review the work you are submitting. Take time editing and assembling your material. Write a unique cover letter for each market, even if you wind up saying relatively similar things in every letter. Mindfulness reduces anxiety and increases confidence. Your work deserves no less. Even if later declined, you’ll know in your heart that you put together a solid packet of carefully reviewed material, and you can feel good about that.
- Never, ever (ever, ever) compare your work or your list of publications to another. This will only initiate harsh self-criticism and drain you of your creative energy. All artists are at different stages in their respective processes and many are experimenting with different forms and ideas, some of which work, many of which do not. All that is evident in a published piece is work that has succeeded in its goal (at least in one editor’s opinion), not the many (painful) failures that came before it. Further, editorial subjectivity rules out any kind of control, so you may just as well compare apples to oranges.
- Submit more. Rejection letters hold less power when you are still feeling hopeful and high from sending out a packet of new and revised poems to the markets of you dreams.
- Get busy on related projects. Go to readings, attend online courses and live seminars, get involved with or begin a writers group, teach others, read and write about craft, and stay current in your field. You will continue to develop and grow as a writer while keeping your skills sharp, two musts for future quality submissions.
- Enjoy unrelated activities to cleanse your aesthetic palette and make room for new ideas. Enjoy a day in nature, become more involved in a hobby, take a course in something you know nothing about, visit a contemporary art museum to challenge your sense of what’s art, attend a live music event, try a new type of food, exercise a little harder than usual (but no pushing). You’ll be creating new neuro-pathways in your brain that will lead to new perspectives and ideas.
- Play for the sake of play. No goals. No striving. No purpose. Be frivolous for an hour, an afternoon, a day, or a weekend. You will be amazed at how much better your mind works and how much more in touch with your creativity you will be.
While writing and publishing are, for most, the more meaningful aspects of a writer’s life, submitting and rejection do, despite their tedious nature, have important roles in the development of an artist. If there are ways to make these aspects of the process less difficult for those who, like myself, are bothered by them, well then these approaches should be explored and practiced — for the sake of everyone’s well-being.
For a sample collection of rejection letters received by well-known writers early in their career, have a look at Literary Rejection Letters.
And HAPPY WRITING!