I just got 2 rejection letters within five days of submitting to the journals. I received those letters within a week of each other.
Usually submission responses take several weeks or months to receive, so when you get a rejection letter within a few days, it can catch you off guard. I worked on my university’s lit journal for a semester, so I know that it’s easy to quickly read a submission and make a quick decision about whether it belongs in your journal or not, but it still stings (a lot). There’s nothing menacing about it. The piece works or it doesn’t. Really the only reason my teammates and I ever deliberated whether we should accept or reject a piece was because there were so many of us and doubt creeps into the decision making process when so many people with different tastes are in the same room. At the end of the day, though, I knew the pieces were either right for our journal or they weren’t. There was only so much space in our print version, so there wasn’t room to accept poems that fell in the grey area. That’s not to say that we only received a few great poems to put in the journal. We received a ton of great pieces, but they didn’t always fit the theme and feel of our journal.
Recently, I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, and there’s a chapter that focuses on how Gilbert dealt with rejection, especially in her early years of writing. She describes using a “boomerang” technique to deal with rejections, which I have discussed in previous posts. She got the rejection letter and immediately took her manuscript out, stuck it in another envelop and sent it out to a different magazine. She did it automatically. Almost without thinking. Later in the chapter, she encourages writers to do what they need to do to deal with rejection (let themselves feel sad for a little while, get angry, whatever), but she encourages writers not to waste too much time before getting back to work, either by revising or sending their work right back out into the universe.
I’m trying to adopt this method, but so far it’s been a little more difficult than I thought. Finding places to submit to takes a while. You want to find a place that you’ll be happy to be published with and not just any old place that’s open for submissions. It also helps if your work just seems right for the magazine, either because you’ve looked into what they’ve published over time and it seems up your ally or you’ve read their about page and really feel pulled toward their publication. That process takes time, but it’s meaningful. I’ve never liked the idea of sending my work out at random where it could potentially be accepted, but not really appreciated or understood. Granted, it’s hard to know which places are going to treat your work well upfront, but knowing I have the publisher’s respect is important to me. Important in an “I’m not just random content for you to throw up on your website,” way. For that reason, I’ve been a little slow to send my work back out, but I am committed to continue. I really believe that 98% of the work you send out is going to be rejected whether it’s good or not (because, again, there’s only so much space), but you keep going so that you can see the 2% that does get published.
It’s not about accolades or recognition for me, (although to each his own). It’s honestly about having the chance to tell people a story. Storytelling, whether the medium be fiction, poetry, or nonfiction, is an art form I respect deeply and want to engage in. That’s why I keep writing despite the rejection letters, despite the negative workshop comments, despite people in my life just not getting it. I still want to be a writer, see where my stories take me, and see what readers the stories pick up along the way to enjoy the ride with me. We say that writing is so solitary, so lonely, but to me writing is all about people. You share something you worked hard on, and other people engage with your art whether it’s as an editor, or a reader of a journal, or someone reading this blog. Rejection may sting, but writing doesn’t. As difficult as starting out as a writer is, I hardly feel alone. I hope you don’t either.
Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. Let’s encourage each other.
Poet. Reader. Lifelong Student.