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Writing: Rejection and Community

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 community.

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.

isolated writer

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.

Submission Mockers

RejectionTwo weeks ago we talked about how to know if you are a writer or not and when you can claim the word as your own. What about when you think it is time to move on to being a ‘published’ writer? The word published, in today’s climate of self-publishing and blogs is rather vague. I mean, what about when you think it is time to be published by someone else? To send your work out for acceptance or rejection?

The essay is ready. You’ve agonized over every word, spent the morning putting in a comma and then spent the afternoon taking it out and now you are just like Oscar Wilde. Which means you are totally ready.

And now I have the bad news.

Every place you want to submit your essay or short story or poem, every single one of them, has people they hire just for the purpose of mocking you. This is because magazines and websites and book publishers have buckets of cash at their fingertips and want nothing more than to make fun of wanna-be writers.

These submission-mockers (that’s the official job title) wear hipster glasses and skinny jeans. They drink gallons of fair trade coffee and eat only chocolate and never outgrow their skinny jeans and run marathons in 3:29. They have funky hair and cool piercings. They bike to work and laugh a lot (especially at you). They are all multi-published authors with awards from obscure but genius literary magazines and have also scored mega-money contracts from one of the top five publishers. Which is why they have time to laugh at you. Their books pretty much write themselves. You are the only one staring blankly, feeling sick, pulling your hair, and crying.

They open your email or your envelope and by the time they have read your first line they are clutching their sides, shouting to the others, “come and read this, what this loser thinks is publishable!” By the end of your submission they all rush to the bathroom, they simply cannot hold the laughter-pee one second longer. Then they regroup and reread the submission. They memorize lines from it so they can quote your idiocy to other submission-mockers at a party this weekend, they might even use a line from it in their next essay.

The next submission they read is from Cheryl Strayed and they don’t laugh at her. While they are happy to publish her in their journal, they really just want to reread your submission because they like rejecting people more than they like accepting people. And that’s what it really is too – not rejection or acceptance of an essay but of an entire person.

Now that you know, you have two choices.

  1. Never, ever submit your work to be published.
  2. Don’t believe a word of this and submit your work to be published.

To accomplish number two you will have to decide to believe that editors are thrilled to read submissions, that they like nothing more than stumbling across a new and compelling voice, that they believe in the power of the written word, that everyone gets rejections, and that you might get accepted.

What’s it gonna be? Keep the submission-mockers in business and send your work out or wait, in the hopes that the other top-secret publishing world employees called Next-Great-American-Novelist/Essayist/Memoirist-Finders will come knocking and beg you to write for them?

image credit: By Mjt16, via Wikimedia Commons

By |September 30th, 2013|Categories: Writing|Tags: , |10 Comments
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