Just when I thought I was getting better at this rejection thing, I got a doozy of a letter last week. Granted, it came on a day when I was already feeling too much angst over real life issues. I like to think I’m emotionally stable about these things, but I was reminded that even a robotic INTJ like myself can have hurt feelings sometimes.
Before I tell you about my rejection, I ought to tell you that the story I sent was brilliant. It’s a strangely surreal tale of a woman being reunited with her husband during a near-death experience. One of my beta-readers told me that it was most likely her favorite thing she had ever read. I thought the story was perfect, and I was pretty proud of it. So when that email came through, I thought, “This is it. This is my first acceptance.”
When I started reading and found out it was a form rejection, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Then I read further to the editor’s personal comment and read the words, “it didn’t work for me.” What? I sat there in shock for several minutes, wondering if perhaps they had read the wrong story, or perhaps they sent the wrong letter.
The shock didn’t last too long. My second move was to email my friend and tell her the story had been rejected. I won’t write the exact words here, but there was quite a lot of name-calling involved over this bastard editor who couldn’t understand the brilliance of my story. It’s strange. All my rejections for my other stories had been so kind and positive, but something about that phrase, “it didn’t work for me” stung. It took me back to my college days of piano juries, when I had played my heart out on a piece and a harsh instructor wrote just two words on my evaluation: “Nice try.”
My next move was to head over to Google Plus for some sympathy. I knew my friends there would help me get over this rejection. But one of the first comments was, “As an editor, I don’t take rejections personally. If it doesn’t work for me, it doesn’t work.” Now, I’m all about preaching the “don’t take it personally” line, but this one was just WRONG.
I shot back, asking what the phrase meant and how it was supposed to help me with my writing. She said that she usually included some comment about what didn’t work, and that the phrase is more of a feeling, not a criticism, like saying, “This doesn’t fit with our publication” or something wishy-washy like that.
Her words gave me pause. I realized I was taking the phrase like a punch in the gut, when it was no different from what other editors had said. It wasn’t that the piece itself was broken, just that it didn’t work for that publication. Well, okay then.
At this point, I decided that writing was a ridiculous hobby and I shouldn’t take part in it anymore. My stories tend to be strangely surreal so they don’t exactly fit anywhere. And anyway, it’s such a waste of time, isn’t it? I am a homeschooling mother, I run a small piano studio, and there are at least a dozen Korean dramas I haven’t watched yet.
I am embarrassed to say this, but I moped. I moped around for several days. I comforted myself with grilled cheese and tomato soup and a bag of candy corn from the bulk bin. My family was kind to me. My husband kept saying, “It wasn’t you they rejected. They just rejected the opportunity to publish your story.” I understand that with my head, but it didn’t make me feel any better.
I started getting sick of myself moping around. Three days later, I decided to open up that rejection letter again. This time, I saw that the editor had included a note about not connecting with the main character. I’m sure I had noticed, but skimmed over it because of the “didn’t work” phrase. Besides, who wouldn’t be able to connect with my character? That’s just silly crazy editor talk.
Then on Monday, I opened the file with the story and read through it again. The editor was right. My main character didn’t even have a NAME, for goodness sake! I thought it was a style issue, but I saw how it made it difficult to feel emotional attachment. I also saw how the use of present tense made things awkward, and how I had neglected to introduce the antagonist until right near the end. Even though it was painful, I started the hard work of revising and rewriting the story to give it more character and make it easier to connect with the work.
I’ll admit, I’m still not done. I still get a little ticked off, and then I get embarrassed, and then I think I want to quit, and I think my stories are stupid and terrible, and I think my stories are brilliant and misunderstood. And this is why I believe that no one in their right mind would choose the writing life. The writing life chooses you.