on rejection

I had an interesting email discussion the other day with a fellow writer Debby Waldman. Debby is what I term a real writer because she’s published books. She’s a great storyteller, and a passionate mother. We first met when our teenage daughters played soccer together many years ago. She asked me how I handle rejection. The honest answer is not very well.

In the olden days, when us writers submitted a piece, we’d mail it and then wait for a letter back in the mail. This is so old school. Now we email our submissions, and we hear nothing back. There is just a blank inbox blinking at us on the screen for weeks at a time.

I carefully follow the submission guidelines for publications. Sometimes I have to query them with an idea; sometimes I can submit an entire essay directly to their editor. After I press send, I wait. And wait. And wait.  Note:  it doesn’t matter how many times you press the ‘Get Mail’ button – it won’t make the emails from the editors appear.

It is common courtesy not to send in the same writing to a number of different publications at a time. But what if you hear nothing back? Most recently, I submitted a piece in October to a well-known parenting magazine. I endured 8 weeks of silence. (Insert the sound of crickets here). So I took my essay back, and resubmitted somewhere else, somewhere more prestigious. So there, well-known parenting magazine! I’ll show you! (Yes, I submit some writing in pure spite).

Ah, but we must keep our thoughts about specific rejections underneath our hats. I bore witness to writer Ayelet Waldman, who recently went off on Twitter when the New York Times didn’t select her book as one of their “100 Notable Books of 2014.” Russell Smith wrote a good piece in the Globe and Mail about it, where I believe he further insulted her by calling her a ‘minor writer’. Ouch.

Writers are sensitive flowers. I do understand Ayelet Waldman’s rage – rejection stings, hard, right in the middle of your chest. It makes tears well up and breathing to become laboured.   But alas, writers also always need an editor, which is why Twitter is so dangerous for us – words fly right from our heads into our Twitter feeds, with no editorial intervention. I’ve ranted on Twitter about a number of topics – mostly about the media’s use of language associated with disability, and tokenism in patient engagement – but I’m careful to keep my mouth shut about the hands of the publications that feed me.

How I handle the silent rejection is this: I resubmit my writing elsewhere. The joy of having a blog is that I’m my own publisher, and I can post anything I want here. Anything! Even if it is crap – nobody stops me. (Sorry folks).  Rejection is a natural part of this writing thing. I’d suggest focusing on the glory of your published bylines instead.

But please go forth and keep telling your stories.  That’s the only thing that’s going to make change in this damn world.

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