I’m writing. The words are coming—not from me—from that other place. The vault of ideas that’s in my aura or somewhere. I’m just standing under the waterfall. The kind of writing that feels good.
But I keep checking my email—breaking the rules. There’s a message from the Kenyon Review, “We had an exceptionally strong pool…The editorial staff was impressed with the consistent quality of the work; narrowing the pool…was not an easy task. Unfortunately, your submission was not selected…”
I feel shock. How my burning chest retracts, collapses. My mouth turns down and aches at the corners. I cry.
A week later, I get another one.
My disappointment is so physical. Sore. Acid, ache in my chest. My wrinkles deepen, my mouth literally sags. Then comes the anger, “Fuck ‘em!” [I’m a Kiwi; can’t help it.] Later, a headache—I can’t be sure why it’s there, but fact is, my forehead’s been trying to fold in half at my frown lines the last six hours because rejection SUCKS.
I submit to the biggest journals in the country; the gatekeepers of American literature. Granta, Kenyon, Ploughshares…and I get rejected nearly every time.
I put myself through this regular torture because a friend gave me some advice. She, who has published two novels and multiple short stories in prestigious journals, says, “Go big. Don’t fuck [she’s from Philly] around. Submit to the big name journals. Keep submitting. Whatever you do, keep submitting.”
This is how I deal: I notice it. I don’t push it away, and I wait at least an hour before I get a drink.
I pause, the tears rise, an ache spreads down through my gut. God, I’m sad. I breathe, and the breath holds space for me. My breath travels into my chest. As I sit with it, the pain melts a little. It doesn’t go away, and I don’t ignore it, but it loses its swagger, its hugeness, I’m a hopeless fucking case-ness.
On the screen, I bring up the story I’m working on and finish a sentence even as my mind wanders back to the rejection. I also chat to myself. I know I sound like a nut job but bear with me. I speak to my inner voices. “I know you’re hurting. Yeah,” I croon. “Yeah…it feels like this. This is what rejection feels like.” Then I keep on writing. One more sentence. In an hour, when I have to pick my girls up from school, it’s okay. The rejection hasn’t gone away, but it’s okay. I write four more pages. Stepping stones. Nobody got good by giving up.
Get to know how bad it feels when you don’t make the cut. Celebrate the sweet joy that comes with the finishing, the occasional accolades, the acknowledgment in “Great effort! Man, I could never do what you do.” All of it.
Find the people who will hold you, love you, because of and regardless of, this propensity to write down every single thing that happens and say, “Keep going.”
If your gut’s telling you to write, listen. We need more people in this world of broken attempts at the rational—the fixation on linear thinking; more people allowing for the flow—allowing for the mystery of life, the pain of life—not to explain it, just to hold it.
Writing, painting, and creative movement are conduits to touching this moment and that. To feeling truly alive. We writers are agents, the inspiration for a world that needs more love, more art, and more people okay with the darkness, the not knowing. This space.
And if you don’t believe me: http://www.aerogrammestudio.com/2016/05/27/why-your-rejection-letter-means-nothing/
Photo credit: http://nos.twnsnd.co/image/121356626818