The Single Solution to Weathering Rejection
I'm on a writer's forum called a "Squadlet," which I joined mostly because "Squadlet" is an awesome word and so I want to be in one. Mostly we yell at ourselves in there.
But every now and then, I get to be useful. I an able to answer a question other than "How often should freelance writers change clothes?" (Answer: When we remember to, which is contingent on whether or not we've also remember to do laundry.")
One writer, newly retired from academic writing, wanted to know how to navigate the new killing fields of Not-Academic Writing, which releases college teachers from the comfy hamster ball of the scholar niche and into the literary Thunderdome. She wanted to know how to best weather rejection.
And this is what I said:
I've been at this since I was 14 years old.
I am 45. I started writing when you had to send your manuscript on actual paper in an actual envelope. And I've been published by some fairly big names. Fellowships. Residencies. Contests. All the things. You know what this means?
Not all that much.
I still had the same wounds I was walking around with before the bylines.
My spiritual life has been growing a great deal over the past 5 years or so, and I've come to realize that our job is to do our very best and put the work out there. Do what we can to promote it.
And then let it go.
Having worked one million different jobs-- academia, journalism, museums, education, podcasting-- I have learned that yeah, every now and then some truly tremendous, once-in-a-generation writing does indeed see print.
But, if your work doesn't agree with the goal/worldview/politics/business model/agenda of the publication, your words will not see the light of day in that publication even if you are Shakespeare reborn.
That's not a complaint. Publications should be able to choose for themselves what to publish and not publish. But to hang our self-esteem and worth as writers on a "Congratulations!" email plays right into the very worst of gatekeeping.
Yes, sometimes writing doesn't get published because it sucks and is derivative of a million other things. I see this on Kindle a zillion times a week.
But have you ever seen a publication publish something with the following: "We disagree with every single thing below but the writing is stunning, so here it is"? Sometimes. But not much. Not nearly often enough.
Not when there are a million forces beyond even the editors' control pushing and pulling what gets into print.
And certainly it's not the best idea to platform actual toxic waste, of course, but in my experience, toxic waste dumps of opinions are almost never well-written. The author is too busy trying to convince us that they're not, in fact, toxic waste dump opinions, and it's traaaaaaaash.
But if the rejections are coming because you and your words and your philosophies aren't perfectly in the mold of the publication?
That's something different, and something to face down.
We are blessed to now live in a time when we may unleash our worlds upon the world whether one single editor likes it or not. And there is no excuse, now. Wouldn't you prefer to write exactly as you're led to (with hard work and editing, of course) and place it on the waters to go where it will rather than trying to hammer yourself into what others want?
Do you want the byline or do you want to live in freedom?
It's possible to have both, I guess, but that's incredibly rare and getting rarer.
Write from a place of pure-as-possible authenticity, and the readers will follow. It might not be very many. But it will be the right ones, people who can take courage from your own centeredness.
Your worth is in your irreplicable life, not an award, or a fellowship, or a bestseller listing. Not when those running things have decided that you must submit your own, ringing voice in exchange for them.
Even if you never publish anything.
Even if you never write again.
I wish I had known this when I was 14.