Spoiler Alert: The above title may or may not be misleading.
I open my mailbox expecting to find a grocery store flyer or the latest IKEA catalogue, but what I discover is a self-addressed stamped envelope. It’s from a literary magazine, one of the fifty or so I’ve submitted to in the past nine months and before I even read the contents of the letter, I let out a sigh big enough to propel myself stark-naked into the Indian Ocean. The anticipation and dread build as I scramble to find a makeshift letter opener in my pockets. Using a combination of my teeth and car keys, I tear the thing open. The answer is what I expected: rejection. It’s not one of the handwritten notes or personalized we can’t publish your story, but keep up the good work responses. It’s a form rejection, the kind printed on a bookmark-sized strip of paper with the author’s name copied and pasted on, the kind in which the story isn’t even referred to by its title, the kind that is about as personal and helpful as an electricity bill.
Later that night, my cell phone vibrates on the nightstand in the middle of the night. I check to see what was so important that it had to disturb my sleep. I unlock the screen: rejection. I turn on my side, probably to wake up in a cold sweat with the words we are unable to offer you publication at this time on my lips. Some say to plaster these letters on the walls for encouragement, but would a diligent student tape their F graded physics tests to their walls? I would end up like Jim Carey in the movie The Number 23, frantically scribbling on every surface in search of the secret code.
This is the part of the blog post where start wondering if there really is a secret to never getting rejected again. You have taken the bait. Keep reading. For every acceptance letter received there are ninety-seven despondent writers informed that their long laboured-over piece has been declined. The same thoughts inevitably ensue: do those people at X magazine not get it? Is the competition that fierce or is my stuff really just not that good? The last of these recurrent thoughts is the most agonizing. Sometimes, I wonder if am the literary equivalent of that delusional singer on American Idol whose screechy voice causes doves to plummet from the sky, yet still thinks Barbara Streisand has been put to shame. When I do get the occasional acceptance letter, I have to reread the same lines over and over again and only once confirmed by a team of legal experts do I allow myself to cartwheel around the kitchen table.
Given the odds, it’s a wonder that anyone in their right mind writes fiction, which begs the question, why do it? It’s hard to imagine anyone drinking pots of coffee to write dishwasher instruction manuals all through the night on the off-chance someone out there will connect with the poetry of their expertly crafted technical guidance. There is something irrational, even absurd about sequestering oneself in a cramped room away from the sunlight to write make-believe tales about non-existent heroes and villains for real people to fall in love with and despise. Are we, writers and readers, just shut-in strangers trying to connect through shared hysterical delusions? Maybe that’s exactly the point.
So, you may be wondering, what’s the secret? Seriously, I’m at work and shouldn’t be reading this thing in the first place. My boss is giving me the stare down. Get on with it! The truth is that there is no easy way out of rejection. It will happen. You just have to keep at it. All you can do is try to improve at the craft, put the hours in and submit while resisting the urge to give up on writing and get into real estate.
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again Fail again. Fail better.”