A Rejection to Break the Heart

I don’t usually let rejections bother me.  After all, they are an inescapable fact of submitting fiction for publishing consideration.  Send work out actively and no matter how great your writing, you’ll accrue a big old pile of ‘no, thank you’s’.  Typically, when a new one lands in my inbox, I glance it over to see if it’s a form or if there are any personalized comments from the editor, note the relevant information in my spreadsheet, and send the story back out.

I don’t practice rejectomancy, reading nuance and meaning into the wording of rejections that are, in all probability, not there.  I don’t take rejections personally.  Heck, I don’t take them as anything other than what they are:  part of being a writer.

We get rejected.  A lot.  Life goes on.

But today I got a rejection that nearly broke my heart.

Today the editor of a pro publication I love, love, love wrote to tell me that she really liked my story.  She went on to discuss the elements of it she loved — the very elements I myself love about this particular work — showing me she really got what I was trying to do with the piece.  But (and isn’t there always one?), the story didn’t quite fit with the very specific type of thing this market publishes, and because of this, they had to pass on many great stories, and mine, she said, was one of those.

Oh, damn.

I get personalized rejections all the time, but for some reason this one hit me hard.

I completely, 100% understand her reasons for passing.  A market gets known for a particular kind of tale, and this wasn’t quite that.  But if an editor of a market you love, who says she really likes your story, who calls it great and seems to really get what you’re trying to do — if that person isn’t going to publish your story…well, then, who will?

I know I should focus on the positive aspects of this rejection.  An editor generously gave of her time to sit down and write an email telling me a story I happened to really love is great.  That’s a nice affirmation.  It tells me I’m on the right track, that my assessment of my own work is not too far off the mark.  That’s a good thing.

But, still…sadness.  Still the feeling that if this editor and this market aren’t the right ones then perhaps there isn’t a right one.

So.  I allowed myself a whole day of mourning.  I didn’t work on any fiction and I didn’t send the story back out.  I did dull, everyday, day-job work and I let my heart mend itself and even let myself indulge in a pointless cry of SO CLOSE!

But, now the day is over.  Tomorrow the story will go back out and probably get rejected again and will go back out again.

People say that the writing business is not for the faint of heart or the easily discouraged.  Certainly that’s so, but it’s more than that.  This business isn’t for people who allow themselves to be discouraged at all.

And I won’t.

Managing our expectations

I’ve been thinking a lot about managing my expectations lately, and not just in relation to my writing but in many aspects of life.

I find that if I hope for something too hard, it can drive me beyond distraction, making it impossible to focus on anything else…and, if my hopes go unmet, it can be utterly crushing.   On the other hand, when I temper my expectations with too big a dose of pragmatism, I fear ending up with enervated dreams lying limp and lifeless on the floor.

What’s a girl to do, then?  How do we find that middle ground?  Where is the space between weeping inconsolably every time we receive bad news and shrugging with a practiced indifference that feels a bit more genuine every time we reach for it?

Coming from academia, I’ve literally been trained in the art of expecting rejection.  In fact, I know very few people who’ve escaped graduate school without a nigh-on ingrained expectation of constant criticism, failure, and stymied hopes.  Oddly, though, most of these people are also some of the least likely to give up.  It’s as if feeling constantly “not good enough” liberates us from the fear of failure and thus the fear of continuing to try.

This is a good thing, but it comes with some bad potential side effects, such as resignation.  We keep putting ourselves out there while holding on to conflicting and equally powerful beliefs:  that we’ll get where we’re headed someday, if only we work hard enough, and that we are most likely to always be told “no” to everything we strive for.

It’s numbing, honestly.  And while numbness is good when it comes to dealing with rejection, it’s terrible for cultivating hope.

Maybe there’s no good way to deal with rejection and dashed hopes, no satisfying means of managing our expectations.  Maybe it’s just all part of the ride: hope, fear, anticipation, dejection, panic, self-hatred, and, finally, the return of a rising sweep of hope.

Contemplating these things always makes me think of that wonderful scene from the original Parenthood film, in which Steve Martin, in the midst of a terrible panic attack, suddenly feels the clattering wheels of a roller coaster dragging him inexorably towards the precipice and, just as he imagines his car tipping down into oblivion, his gagging fear gives way to the elated thrill of speeding downward, hurtling towards the next, unknowable turn on the track.

Life is like that sometimes.