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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.

Yes. 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 *

Dear Mary:

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.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. cathy #

    thank you, mary! this is exactly how i feel. i’m especially secure in my insecurity or whatever it is these days. i rarely submit a blessed thing, and am trying to not let that get in the way of finishing and submitting my youth novel. it’s such ‘my baby’ i really don’t want to hear if someone doesn’t want to publish it. yet, i’m old enough now, that i know i shouldn’t take it personally, and can relatively let it roll of my back, sort of. after a bit of stomping around, swearing and a smidge of cursing their ineptitude….

    in the meantme it’s easy to feel secure about my writing when i don’t submit…after all, it’s the PROCESS, right?

    loveliest rejection letter i’ve seen, btw! do you still have the poem? isent one out when i was about 12, never even heard back from them. biggest rejection, and to a kid! i’m sure it has marked me for life! BP

    January 5, 2009
  2. Kristine #

    I have a love/hate relationship with rejection. On one hand, I use any rejection as a way to evaluate my writing and make it better. On the other hand, every rejection letter is like a stab in the heart. They hurt. All of them.

    The key to coping with rejection, as you have illustrated here, is to keep going, no matter what.

    January 5, 2009
  3. Juliet #

    Most artists don’t want to spend time, and are not good at, doing all the self promotional stuff involved in getting published. I have three novels and heaps of art stuff all stuffed in my closets. If I wanted to write business letters and generate outlines, I dare say I wouldn’t be creating things instead. Theoretically, agents are supposed to fill that need, but to get an agent you have to go through the same old ‘sell yourself’ agony. Why are there not places that specialize in doing the business end of things without trying to get a piece of the action? It’s all screwed up, as far as I can see. Rejections wouldn’t hit so hard if you knew there was a person already busy sending it out again.

    Personally it is my opinion that, like art galleries which will soon be relics of the past (as far as deciding what is art and what is not) because the public can now buy what they like on-line, the publishers with their slush-pile readers who so summarily reject submissions without so much as a single word of encouragement, will soon be relics of the past as we readers and patrons of the arts will find the books we want to read on-line through the self publishing process, and word of mouth. Just wait and see if I’m not right!

    January 5, 2009
  4. Great post, Mary. Very cool that you still have that first rejection letter. I’ve never submitted any writing to get that type of rejection letter. The published pieces I’ve done in the past have pretty much been assignment work, guaranteed to be published if only after a little editing by the magazine editor.

    However! I’ve certainly received my share of rejection letters on the arts festival circuit. Rarely do I get any feedback at all, just the “Thank you for your application. I’m sorry to inform you that your work was not selected for this year’s show”, as they cash my jury and/or application fee check. Sometimes I suffer from that “Who do I think I am?” syndrome. I can’t remember what started this particular conversation, but my DH once said to me, “You just make jewelry.” As in, “You’re not really an artist of any sort…you just make jewelry”. Ouch. That was probably the biggest rejection I ever felt, and a true example of how some people just don’t get it. By the look on my face, DH quickly realized he said something he shouldn’t have and tried to rephrase, but the damage was already done. Yet it did push me to try to do better, be better, come up with more unique designs….and venture into other art areas. I guess that’s the positive side of rejections. 🙂

    January 5, 2009
  5. I love the honesty of your post, Mary.

    I’ve read enough of your work to know that Ramapo was right. You *will* be published. Keep the faith.

    January 5, 2009
  6. Cathy, I didn’t know that you are writing a youth novel! We must talk!

    I don’t have the particular poem anymore, at least I don’t THINK I do. It might be somewhere in my fabulously disorganized box of tricks. Most likely at the bottom somewhere. I should try to see if I can dig it out, and then post the two together – poem and rejection letter. That would be something!

    And, you’re right, I think. Process is just as essential as product – if not more so.

    January 5, 2009
  7. Kristine, yes – rejection is a double-edged sword. I suppose it all is really determined by the KIND of rejection/criticism one endures. If it’s constructive, one can grow and learn from it. If it’s hurtful, then one just feels bad. And who needs that?

    And, yes! Keep going!

    January 5, 2009
  8. Juliet, I think you’ve hit it on the head. What we all need are assistants to do all that crappy work for us – the incessent query letters, the shmoozing, the sell, sell, sell. Let someone else do that, and we can just focus on our creativity. I like that idea quite a lot.

    And it will be very interesting to see the direction publishing takes, with the increasing emergence of online and self-publishing going on nowadays. I hope that the printed word, and books, don’t go too much by the wayside, though, as there is (almost) nothing I love better than the sheer physical feel of a book in my hands.

    January 5, 2009
  9. Since I just sent my first finished manuscript to my first interested agent, I’m in holding-my-breath mode, knowing rejection is likely, but hoping for good news all the same. I know that rejection is just part of the game. But I enjoyed hearing your perspective about it.

    January 5, 2009
  10. Kelly, I suffer from the “Who do I think I am?” malady, as well. I guess the answer I always give myself is, “Well. Why NOT me?”

    It’s a hard thing to get past, but I’m finding that I increasingly feel motivated and driven to accomplish things that I never thought I’d go forward with ten years ago. Maybe that sense of self confidence comes with age for some of us – I know it did me. Not that I am overloaded with self-confidence. Oh, no. But compared with how I was ten years ago? Vastly different.

    Cheers to you for taking the hurtful rejection and letting it lead you to other areas of creativity and flow. I only hope that I can do the same, when the need arises.

    January 5, 2009
  11. Miranda, thank you so much for your kind words! I am honored by them.

    (And I was so glad to meet you the other day! Hope we can do it again soon…)

    January 5, 2009
  12. Brittany – WOW! I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you! Can’t wait until I’m in your position. That must be an amazing feeling. Hope it all goes smoothly for you, and that you’re published soon.

    And, when I get there, maybe you’ll give me some good sage advice…? Heaven knows I’ll be needing it. :0

    January 5, 2009

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