For writers, in between the Facebook likes and the retweets and the comments, there are piles and piles of rejections. In my case, these rejections are immortalized on an Excel worksheet. Titles, places submitted to, the date submitted, the expected waiting period. Then the NO. NO again. Another NO. Oh look! NO. Every once in a while a YES appears and usually it looks more like this: YES!!!!! Sometimes there is a maybe, generally followed by a NO.
But even worse than the rejections, there are the harsh comments, which I don’t intentionally immortalize but sometimes stuck in my brain on endless repeat. The cruel, anonymous jabs that I try not to read but sometimes can’t avoid.
And even worse than that, there are the words we wish we could take back. Or rethink. Or clarify. Or just erase. Maybe they went out into the world before they were really ready. Maybe they went out before we were really ready. Maybe we’ve changed a lot, grown a bit, thought some new things, learned some new facts, seen a fresh perspective. Too late now and thanks to the internet, most things can be found much, much later, or can be found forever. There’s no erasing the trail of our ignorance. Maybe that’s okay, it shows growth. But it still stings.
Writers know full well that we are not necessary. There will always be another writer coming along, saying it better. We know that not everything we do is ‘acceptance’ worthy, very little of it, in fact. We know we probably earn at least some of those harsh comments, we can’t please everyone and sometimes we don’t even try and then, well, here they come. And when we do try, we sound wishy-washy so again, here they come. We know we are far from perfect, have not even come close to thinking things out thoroughly or wisely. It is all an opportunity to grow in humility.
And courage. And persistance. And teachability.
And so I just want to say thank you. Writing is officially an isolated activity. I can’t write a single letter if someone is looking over my shoulder. But writing is absolutely not an isolated activity. Its about communicating and conversation and community.
Last June I was seriously contemplating closing the blog. I was in Kenya, taking a walk. A woman I have never met before nor seen since approached me and said, “Thank you so much for your blog, it has really blessed me.” She didn’t know it, but after we parted ways, I cried. Thank you for being part of my community, anonymous lady.
This past month was a sad and a good month. And almost every day Lennox sent me a tweet with a photo or a sentence expressing his and his family’s delightful experiences touring Djibouti. He was so generous in his affection for this country and in his kind words to me. I felt honored and like I was part of a community that came about through writing. Thank you, Lennox.
Email messages and cultural insights from Djiboutians help deepen essays, echo the warm welcome we receive here as foreigners, and remind me of my local, physically-present community. Waad mahadsantihiin.
I have been blogging now for eight years this January. Life has changed a lot, my words have changed. I think they’ve gotten a teensy bit better. Thanks to my sister who knew better than me and said, “You should start a blog.”
To which I responded, “What’s a blog?”
To which she responded, “I set one up in your name as your Christmas gift.”
And voila, we were off and running, building a community.
I often go to bed with a pit in my stomach, thinking of something I should have said or written differently, remembering a way I could have loved someone better that day. Or I think of a piece I had really hoped would be accepted but I had to write a NO on my excel sheet. Or I dream of all the questions I have for the people I would like to interview here, who have so much to teach me. I’m learning to release it all, to trust that somehow my failures can be redeemed, that sometime or another the questions might be answered, the conversation might build into a relationship.
Being part of a writing and reading and living community facilitates that ability to release it, rejections and all.
I love your writing. I want to be like you when I grow up. (Except I think we’re the same age.)
haha! made me laugh. Thanks Amy.
Ha! I read your name and the date together, so your name became “Amy March!” It took me a minute to realize your screen name wasn’t a selfish character from Little Women!
Don’t give up! Your blog gives me hope that one day I will have time to write more, when my kids are older. Blogging – writing publicly in any form – often feels like such a risk… to risk all those things you mention… is it really worth it? But we keep on doing it mostly because we ‘have’ to… because we were created for this. You have a gift that blesses others, please keep on using it.
Thanks Kate. Exactly – it might not seem ‘worth’ it in some ways of counting but if I thought about stopping? Couldn’t do it.
Great piece Rachel. Your writing is beautiful and inspiring and this piece resonated with me so much. Keep writing because it is indeed your gift to the world.
I’ve been reading a book about endurance running – ultra-marathoning – that has made me think of you a ton recently, and all the real connections between running and writing, a subject I know you have also tackled both with words and legs. And the joy of this book is that, as humans, we are designed to persist and endure. I think that’s true with writing. You’ve got a calling; keep at it. Endure.
Yes – I love those connections too, with running and writing. Pressing on…
Exactly what Laura said – you affect more people than you will ever know. Like, EVER! Thanks for this perfect and timely piece!
A Wrinkle in Time was rejected 26 times, and then it won a Newberry Medal. Emily Dickinson was told that her poetry was not publishable. Rejection isn’t necessarily failure. 🙂 It just feels that way, right? Keep writing your heart. Thanks for sharing it.
I think Stephen King had hundreds of rejections too. And threw away Carrie, his wife pulled it out of the trash and said, I think you’ve got something here…I love these rejection stories! Thanks Jess.
I am so glad you shared these thoughts and feelings, Rachel. I had no idea you were experiencing rejection in any way. Since I see your work at a lot of online places (and congrats on those!), I never thought about the possible rejection emails you might receive before being published, and I’m sorry for the pain it has caused and is causing.
“I often go to bed with a pit in my stomach, thinking of something I should have said or written differently, remembering a way I could have loved someone better that day.” I have had SO many days like this. Days that end in nights in which I’m unable to fall asleep. Oh the pressure we put on ourselves to perfectly weave words, to perfectly love people. And I am learning, alongside you, to release those pressures and walk lighter and freer.
And oh how I love your sister for what she did for you!
Ah! I just don’t advertise the rejections. Some are just dreaming, like I’ll throw something out at a totally out-of-my-league place just to keep myself brave. But some are more disappointing. Still, good for me and always helping me grow. And I totally agree – love my sister! It was probably one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever received.
Keep going. I understand the loneliness and the rejection, but if you love the writing, if you love the connection then it’s worth it. Plus, I love reading your stories…would hate it if they disappeared.
I LOVE your writing. Thanks for allowing yourself to be vulnerable through your willingness to put yourself out there in the public arena. Having lived overseas for 15 years myself, I appreciate how you write so plainly and beautifully about the places and peoples you live. It stokes the flame of the same in me…miss that life every day. You & Marilyn Gardner have both been great encouragers for me to write myself. Don’t stop.
I’m so glad you decided to keep writing. 🙂 Even though there will always be other writers, there’s no one else with your experience and your voice. Keep at it!
Rachel, I first came across your writing with your piece on the Modern Love column about your daughter. That was before I too, gave birth to a little girl in a country different from the one where I grew-up. There is something about your writing, that as a woman, and a mother and an expat (or shall we say, immigrant) that I connect with and I know many do. So thank you for taking time to write and share and do the work that is required of showing up and putting fingers on the keys.
Have you read or heard of Natalie Goldberg’s book, “Write The Bones” ? It has been encouraging and light-hearted as I think about my own journey as a writer. I just read this about how writing is like baking a cake “You have all of these ingredients, the details of your life, but just to list them is not enough…You must add heat and [the] energy of your heart”
You do that! Your readers can feel it. Thank you.
I’m reading! I can’t read your posts as fast as you post them, but I get to them once a week or so, and enjoy the ones I read. I especially liked the longer essay you wrote a while back about the woman cook shop owner and the tomato, and her hard work ethic, as well as the feel of the lunch and supper crowd, and the tomato and onion on loan from the stall down the lane. It brought back memories of delicious cook shops in West Africa when we lived there, and of my African friends’ hard work ethic. Thank you.
Keep persevering! You are doing the writing life (!) and you can continue to do so! Cheering you on in your spreadsheets and effort,
P.S. Do you remember the story about Stephen King’s huge nail for rejection letters that he filled up, and then added more? You can do it.
I’m another one in the “keep writing” stack!
The permanence of writing (especially on the web) does kick things up a notch, for sure. I so know what you mean about going to bed regretful, wishing to do better or reclaim something that went into cyberspace. Wish it didn’t influence my drive or emotions so much, but alas… it does!
I’m so glad for the contribution you make to the web. The insider view, yet still from a learner posture. That’s a tough balance. But an authentic one.
Thank you. Authenticity has kind of been my ‘word’ for the year or two. Really trying to live in that space. Its challenging and I’m learning so much about myself. I’m really glad that comes across.
[…] Every once in awhile, I read something in a blog post or an article that sticks out to me. A sentence or idea that serves as a writing prompt and sends me on a little journey. The most recent tidbit comes from Djibouti Jones’s post called Writing: Rejection and Community. […]
When my daughter and her family moved to Niger to work in a mission school, I scoured the Internet for bloggers who could help me feel connected to her…and I found YOU. Your blog was often a lifeline for me. God has used you to encourage my “parent of a missionary” heart…and my daughter’s heart, as well. Thank you for persevering!
In some community people because your not have parent but solution is you give to Jesus us your community in your life.
[…] know I still have loads, even after years of doing this, to various degrees of success and many degrees of rejections! This was a fun, old post, about the people who have to read our writing submissions: Submission […]