Rejection is awesome. Here’s why.

Today I got such a nice rejection letter from a literary journal that it made my day.

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My wall of rejections. (It’s been my blog’s background for years.)

I know. If anyone had told me when I was starting out that a rejection letter would make my day someday, my eyes would have rolled so hard that they would have come loose.

But this rejection letter, from a journal I love and respect, was a thing of beauty. It included the words “very impressed by your writing” and suggested that I send something else in the future.

If it had been an actual letter rather than an email, I might have clutched it to my bosom.

I’m reasonably sure it was a form letter, but that doesn’t bother me. Not even a little.

The “Good” Rejection

I’ve heard from editors that journals have at least two form letters on file to send to rejected writers. One is the “encouragement” letter (dear X, we love your work but it’s not right for our journal) and then there is the other one (Thank you for sending your work to us. We cannot accept it at this time). I am always thrilled to get the first one.

Yet the second kind of letter isn’t so bad either. A teacher in my MFA program used to say that she was immune to rejection because she was always submitting. She’s right: if you submit enough, you do get used to rejection. You also get used to the idea that the rejection is not personal. Your work isn’t terrible; it really isn’t right for the journal, or there isn’t enough space in the journal for your piece this quarter. It’s not about you. It’s about the journal’s needs. If your piece doesn’t fill those needs, well, try again somewhere else. No harm. No foul.

Real Writers Get Rejected

I used to hate rejections. An old writing group of mine held rejection letter burning parties on Valentine’s Day. That sort of catharsis can be really helpful, but I found, after a while, that I no longer wanted to burn my letters (especially if I actually got a paper letter on real letterhead or even one of those little rejection slips). I started taping the letters to the wall in my office, not as a reminder that I had been rejected, but as a reminder that I’d actually sent short stories out.

Whenever I feel like I’m not actually living the writing life, when I envy someone else’s success, or when I doubt that I’m a “real writer,” all I have to do is look at those letters. They remind me  that not only am I producing work, I’ve also had the guts to send that work to journals. ,

And this is important, because although I don’t mind being rejected by journals, I still hate submitting to them. I hate it with a passion.

But that’s another blog post for another time.

I’m off to print out an email and hang it on the wall. Then I’ve got a short story to resubmit.

 

 

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Tweed holds a stink, and other lessons from AWP

Richard Russo, Jennifer Haigh, AWP, Boston.

The best picture I got? A blurry shot of Richard Russo, pouring water for Jennifer Haigh.

I spent Wednesday through Sunday at a writing conference in Boston, and I have what you could probably call an AWP hangover. I am moving around my office slowly, shifting piles of literary journals from place to place, drinking a lot of water and trying hard not to take a nap on the keyboard.

Because I spent three days frantically tweeting the conference, I was planning to write a big post about AWP and the helpful writing things I learned there, but I can’t even. What I can do is give you this list, however, of the things I learned this weekend that may or may not be helpful:

  1. Tweed holds a stink. Launder that vintage jacket, gentlemen. It’s not going to get any less nasty without the help of a dry cleaner.
  2. Take some time to learn how the camera in your new device works before stepping into any convention center. People like photos that aren’t blurry.
  3. Socially awkward writers like to make observations about how socially awkward other writers are. But not in person; on the internet.
  4. Speaking of which, the easiest way to make friends at AWP is via Twitter.
  5. Also, Twitter was the easiest way for me to take notes. (I can read my tweets, which is more than I can say for the notes in my notebook.)
  6. Someone needs to make writer paper dolls, featuring buns, turtlenecks, peaked caps, pencil skirts, Neil Gaiman hair and tweed with cartoon stink lines coming off of it.
  7. If you leave postcards, journals or any other promo materials on a cafe table at AWP, a janitor will come by five minutes later and very politely tip your stuff into the trash.
  8. Ben Percy’s description of literary fiction as a genre* should be inscribed on something in stone.
  9. If you hear Ben Percy’s voice, you’ll understand that everything he says sounds as if it actually is inscribed in stone.
  10. I came out of AWP with a lot of brand new heroes (Jennifer Haigh, Michelle Legro, Sarah Einstein) but Julianna Baggott is my spirit animal. And not just because she led a raid on the men’s bathroom.
  11. OMG. You need a Tumblr.
  12. Take #11 with a grain of salt; someone from Tumblr was on the panel that told me that.
  13. Very few people at AWP want to hear you read from your book. They are much more worried about their own books.
  14. The bigger the author, the more people want to unburden themselves emotionally during those last five minutes of Q&A.
  15. Wine+book fair = event planner genius.
  16. Getting trapped in a panel > getting locked out of one.

*Ben Percy’s definition of literary fiction went something like this: “You may as well call literary fiction its own genre in which a bunch of pretty sentences drink tea and look out a window at boiling clouds until someone has an epiphany.” That’s not it exactly. I hurt myself laughing and couldn’t get the whole quote.