Thoughts for Thursday – Rejection Revisited

Is it possible to be a sheepish kitten? If so, that would be....Me.

While I didn’t win a recent fiction contest, the editor notified me that he accepted my story. I am considering graciously withdrawing, on the pretext of further work on the story. (Can I get prosecuted for pretexting in this case?) Is that just completely bad form? Need to really give this some thought.

Okay, maybe, just maybe, I overreacted yesterday (insert YOUR favorite understatement here). But, though rejection in its many guises is part and parcel of a writer’s life, it's hard not to take it hard.

As everyone’s comments on yesterday’s post show, we all experience the R word. It broke my heart that some folks won’t submit work because they fear Rejection. That's just not a good enough reason to deprive the world of your best creative self!

As writers, we all need to accept – nay, embrace – Rejection as part of A Writer’s Life. If we really want to write, rejection shouldn’t stop us. If we really aren’t writers, rejection shouldn’t matter. (Feel free to bookmark this and throw the words in my face next time I whine about a rejection.)

And, as you can see by my experience with this particular story (which lost a contest but was accepted for publication), Rejection doesn’t mean “You Suck.” (Okay, sometimes it does. But sometimes it does not.) Why should we let Rejection Of Our Writing stop us from writing or sending work out? We don’t stop looking for a job because one employer didn’t make us an offer, do we?

I’ll have more on this in future posts – next time, from the Editor’s viewpoint…


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?


A few on Kew: Virginia Woolf's Kew Gardens

Cross-posted at A Curious Singularity

This story opens in an omniscient view -- from the eye of God, the merciless glare of the universe -- upon the microcosm world of the Kew Gardens. Woolf particularizes this world, of flower and fauna, very precisely. It is unique, seething with life, wonder and surprise:

The light fell either upon the smooth, grey back of a pebble, or, the shell of a snail with its brown, circular veins, or falling into a rain-drop, it expanded with such intensity of red, blue, and yellow the thin walls of water that one expected them to burst and disappear. Instead, the drop was left in a second silver grey once more, and the light now settled upon the flesh of a leaf, revealing the branching thread of fibre beneach the surface, and again it moved an and spread its illumination in the vast green spaces beneath the dome of the heart-shaped and tongue-shaped leaves.

With this precise observation comes the anthropomorphisis of nature. (I hope I am using that term correctly.) Nature is given human characteristics, such as the heart-shaped and tongue-shaped leaves. When humans enter the story, they ascribe nature's characteristics to humans, such as the first man's desire being in the dragonfly, or are ascribed natural characteristics themselves (as when the elder man walks in the manner of an impatient carriage horse tired of waiting outside a house). This is consistent throughout the story, suggesting, I think, the interrelation of nature and humans; mankind is part and parcel of the natural world, and vice versa.

But, as the reactions of the various people demonstrate, mankind is oblivious to the miracles of nature around them. They are preoccupied with specific human concerns: the passage of time, love, class, wages. These are not the concerns of the natural world. Witness the struggle of the snail (one of the finest passages, in my opinion):

The snail had now considered every possible method of reaching his goal without going round the dead leaf or climbing over it. Let alone the effort needed for climbing a leaf, he was doubtful whether the thin texture which vibrated with such an alarming crackle when touched even by the tip of his horns would bear his weight; and this determined him finally to creep beneath it, for there was a point where the leaf curved high enough from the ground to admit him.

The irony here is that the snail's journey mirrors man's struggles. Furthermore, from our knowledge of science, we know the load-bearing leaf is a non-issue; thus, much of the snail's struggle is rendered pointless. Is the omniscient God/narrator able to see, where we do not, the fruitlessness of our own struggles?

Despite the interrelation of man to nature, mankind is encroaching upon the natural world, with their words, their objects, and customs and, finally, their machines. We get a mere hint of the war the world is engulfed in at that moment, one which history has proven to be incredibly destructive.

But what am I to take from my reading, or the other views that others offer on this site? I react to this story much as I did to Henry James's Turn of the Screw: the sums of its parts are greater than the whole. I don't think Woolf went far enough in establishing her themes and characters. The two elderly women, for example, don't seem multi-dimensional or have much point in the story as maybe the others do.

I found the Julia Briggs genesis, posted on A Curious Singularity by Kate S., to be very compelling and interesting. It reminds me of the anecdote I posted on Sept. 5 about the origin of Woolf's story A Haunted House.

(Note: Woolf uses "myriad of" at the very end of the story. I had ripped Dianne Day for using this phraseology in Fire and Fog, believing myriad was an adjective. However, Merriam-Webster says that the noun is an older form and therefore, can serve as the noun modified by the prepositional phrase. I stand corrected!)


Man's search for meaning

I just read Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning," and thought I'd include a few excerpts for a little Monday inspiration. (I usually italicize excerpts, but that is kind of annoying, so I'm just leaving the type roman.)

One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone's task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.

(The self-transcdence of human existence) denotes the fact that being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself--be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself--by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love--the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.

There are situations in which one is cut off from the opportunity to do one's work to enjoy one's life; but what never can be ruled out is the unavoidability of suffering. In accepting this challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end.

...the transitories of our existence in no way make it meaningless. But it does constitute our responsibleness; for everything hinges upon our realizing the essentially transitory possibilities. Man constantly makes his choice concerning the mass of present potentialities; which of these will be condemned to nonbeing and which will be actualized? Which choice will be made an actuality once and forever, an immortal footprint in the sands of time? At any moment, man must decide, for better or for worse, what will be the monument of his existence.