God said: Don't give up your day job!

Be it ever so humbling...there's nothing like a fiction rejection or a lost fiction contest to bring a kittenish writer to her knees.

It's as if a giant, muscle-bound Universe stood toe to toe with me and said, "Me, Tarzan! You--suck!"

I guess that's what I get for dissing Henry James and Virginia Woolf.

What is it about losing a fiction contest that makes you feel like you barely qualify for a job that involves a large fryer and hairnet, much less a job writing prose that large groups of serious people would actually spend time reading? What is it about receiving that bland brush-off from an anonymous editor, that "thanks-for-sending-but-your-work-is-more-fit-for-the-recycle-bin-than-our-esteemed-publication" letter which completely drains a writer of confidence, will and anything akin to moral integrity?

(Could it be that writers love to dramatize? Naaaawwww...)

Here is my take on writing and rejection:

One reason a recent fiction rejection hit me between the eyes is because I have not been prolific as of late. In 2004-2005, I wrote up a storm and had lots and lots of stories out. I sort of became inured to rejection. While I looked forward to hearing from editors, I churned out more stuff to keep the momentum going. And, hey, if one editor rejected me, another story had a shot. Hope sustained me. The thrill of the chase motivated me. And, eventually, all of the fiction did get published. Right now, I have few stories in the hopper, and the one I did send probably could use more work. Thus, one rejection pretty much stops the whole process cold.

Moral of story: Don't put all your literary eggs in one basket. Work on multiple projects at once, and something's bound to work. And the energy carries you from one work to the next. If one story or chapter isn't working out, something else might. And when that something else works, chances are you can return to the stalled prose and find that the energy has shifted, the wheel has unstuck from the mud.

I think it would also help to be able to tolerate great tumblersful of whiskey during this whole process or take up smoking unfiltered Gauloises, but that's another tip for another day. But first, I should order this book. And always, always keep the day job.

Fellow writers, hear my clarion call! How do you handle rejection?

(To end on an up-note, I just received an e-mail notifcation that my books One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson, Auschwitz by Laurence Rees and The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai have just shipped! Solace, courtesy of UPS.)

And another post-script tip on rejection: It hurts much worse to be rejected by a second-rate publication than a first-rate one. So, screw it, Fates, I'm going for the gold. Writer-buds, what publications do you deem worthy?


Yogamum said...

I'm sorry about the rejection, but "Me Tarzan, you -- suck!" had me LMAO.

I deal with rejection by not submitting anything for publication ;-)

Anonymous said...

I want to make sure that the good lit journals always have a story, while also hitting the "smaller" ones. And, yes, that does hurt a little more.

Honestly, the rejections themselves don't hurt as much that feeling of anxiety that strikes when dropping the manuscripts into the mail.

Rebecca H. said...

I like your advice about having multiple things going -- there's always a reason to hope! I've gotten rejection for academic things before, not for fiction, but with academic things, they send detailed responses with things to revise, which makes me feel both worse (here's how your essay sucks!) and better (here's something to do to improve it!). It would be hard to get something more like a form letter.

Stefanie said...

I'm not very good at rejection yet, still too new to the whole writing submission stuff. So I get a little down for a day or two and then I manage to convince myself that a) the editor was blind and didn't realize what s/he was doing or b) the piece was rejected by xyz because it was really meant for abc!

Send a story to the New Yorker. Won't you be totally jazzed if they accept it?

Brandon said...

I handle rejection simply by leaving room for disappointment. But now I have a certain sense of humor about it: before I send something off, I always think to myself, "I hope the editor can at least give me a decent rejection slip, rather than the stock rejection slip." I almost expect my stuff to be rejected--even I don't think I'm a good writer--so I'm always pleasantly surprised when someone says yes.

However, rejection has actually helped me to look at what I write and to be merciless when it comes to editing and rewriting. I hear about a lot of writers wondering what they can add to their stories; I always wonder how much of a story I can cut. And I take a weird sort of glee in marking up my own stories. When I finish something the first time around, my goal is to cut it by half. And I guess I'd just rather be the one wielding the red pen.

Buffy said...

I throw up. Get angry. And then spend two million years not submitting.

Anonymous said...

this post is full of such great energy, regardless of the content. I agree with you, working on multiple projects is the way to go. What's more, writing begets writing, so the more you write, the more ideas you have. I don't really have any set or established way of dealing with rejection, but I don't let it ruin my whole day. I am a writer, and I will write regardless of publication. it keeps me balanced and whole and happy. That said, I really need to get more out there...I only have one piece submitted to one place right now.

Carl V. Anderson said...

I would say that fear of rejection is probably the major thing that has kept me from even trying to write something!

litlove said...

Rejection. Ugh. Yuk. I grump about and usually go shopping. I find it essential to turn away from academics for a bit when it happens, do ordinary life stuff, spend time with people who make me laugh, cook nice meals. Time is all it takes to move on, so you might as well pamper yourself while that time is happening.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear this! I could never be a writer (aside from the fact I could never be so creative, I could never handle the rejection!). Not that it will make you feel better, but think of those times when famous author's works have been resubmitted to publishers without their names on the book and have gotten rejected--in some cases award winning material. Don't think it is your writing, think that they are just incompetent readers!!! And I would shop to feel better myself. And maybe eat some chocolate. Good luck--and keep writing!!

LK said...

Yogamum, I'm glad you got a grin out of it. Yay.

Damon, see, for me dropping in the mail is a sort of a relief. Don't have to work on it anymore (at least, for a while).

To everyone else, excellent advice. Shopping and chocolate sound therapeutic, and then I could throw up afterwards.

Danielle, I beg to differ about your not being a writer or creative. I read your blog...

Anonymous said...

If it's possible, it sounds like it's good to have lots of writing things going on. And maybe if there's not so much time these days to do that, then there are other places where the work you're spending time on is meeting with success -- all those serious people reading what you're writing, for example. And please don't forget just how much pleasure your blog distributes!

BikeProf said...

I can really empathize with you here. I still have my first rejection letter, which I received when I was 9. It was from Highlights Magazine for children. I'm still sad about it.