Mary: Rejection as a lifestyle
I’ve had my fair share of rejection in my life. I used to traipse around the Boston area, auditioning here and there for parts. Probably, I was a little out of my league. In fact, in the words of the Magic Eight Ball, it is decidedly so. Fresh out of college, quite “green,” no experience in the professional theatre (as an actress), and with many stars, and a stray eyelash or two, in my eyes, I picked my audition pieces with the aplomb and insight of a politician dealing crack.
Still, I hoped for the best, and bravely strode to the doors of one such audition, piece in hand (or in my head, actually). It was Emily’s last monologue in Our Town, a role I did not ever play, and although I did play Mrs. Webb in my high school production, that mere fact does not mean that I was capable of producing an efficient rendering of the scene. In retrospect, let’s just say I was a little ill-prepared.
But it was a serious monologue, and I produced it poignantly, I imagined, PAR cans in my face, to the faceless souls out there watching. I finished. They said, “Thank you.” I turned and pushed open the double doors, and as they swung closed behind me, I heard them burst into laughter.
Oooh, that killed me. I think that might have been the proverbial straw, although I should have brushed myself off and kept going. But I think, at that moment, I somehow felt that I just didn’t have it in me. I couldn’t do it anymore. It felt personal.
Of course, being a writer, one faces rejection all the time. Every day. It is an aspect of the writing life that is reliable, like an old coat, like that pair of “go-to” jeans. Some people even sort of thrive on it. Or at least, make it into a joke.
My old college professor, and mentor, of sorts, told us he used to wallpaper his room with all the rejection letters he received. They almost became sort of badges of honor for him. All those rejections. All those submissions.
I’m not sure why I don’t submit more. I have many articles and essays that, if only fleshed out and worked up, might amount to something. It’s always the last thing on my to-do list, the editing and researching and sending out of material. I sometimes wonder if maybe I have a fear of rejection. Or fear of success, which is even more puzzling. Maybe I have a fear of rejectful succession. I think that’s probably the case.
Pseudo-self-analysis aside, I think sometimes rejection is our greatest friend, as writers. It can really give us a fresh look to our writing — it can give us Perspective and Objectivism. It can also give us a major migraine, but that can easily be solved by a good sound nap and the formulation of a long heated letter stating why said rejecter is talking out of his or her ass. (Shredded right afterwards, of course).
I do think rejection can be constructive, especially if the criticism is given that way. I am reminded of a graduate writing class I took, where one of my fellow students declared, “I don’t like your story, and I don’t know why.” (Believe me, HE got an very heated, unsent letter later on that evening). Some criticism is not helpful, nor is it necessary. I mean, what am I supposed to do with that?
I don’t expect much in the way of personal feedback from magazines, journals, publishers, etc., who have rejected me. I mean, these hard-working people have their share of relentless reading to do – much of it crap, in all likelihood. So I don’t expect a small novelette in response, for goodness sake.
Still, it is difficult not to take it personally, at times. Writers — and all artists, I think — must have the ability to shake off negativity, and keep heads up and egos in place. At times, writers must appear to have monstrous, in-your-face, stocking-up-at-the-all-you-can-eat-counter-and-then-going-for-seconds types of egos, that continually need to be fed; that need the affirmation, the nod, the, “Yes, you’re doing great! Yes, you are GOING places!” In actuality, I think writers are some of the most insecure people around, needing the boost that comes with encouragement and positive feedback.
I’m not sure I’m insecure. I might be so insecure that I am secure in it. Or that I just don’t see it, because I’m so deluded. Hopefully it’s neither one, and I happen to be someone who is developing a secure sense of self (but if delusion is the case, than how would I know)? I’ll tell you, no matter what state of self-possession I might be in, I surely need to get back to it, and start sending stuff out again.
I’m adding in here a letter I found in an old box of my childhood writings, which I must have received when I was eight years old. It appears that I had sent in a poem to the publishing company Ramapo House, and they were kind enough to send me a rejection letter back, which my parents astutely kept. It’s my first one. * sniff *
Thank you very much for your wonderful poem. We have hung it up in my office and everyone who visits my office will read it.
You are a very good poetess. You should save a copy of all your poems and perhaps someday a publisher will print them in a book with your name under them. When I see lovely poems like this I am sorry that our company only publishes textbooks for schools!
Thank you again.
Thanks, Ramapo. Maybe someday a publisher WILL print them in a book. With my name under them, and everything. I can only hope.