By Judy Clement Wall
As soon as Milli and I decided to expand the j’s Journey series to include all aspects of writing for publication, I knew that, at some point, I’d be writing about rejection.
There may be writers out there submitting their work who never feel the sting of an editor’s “Thank you but no thank you” response, but if there are, I’ve never met them. Someone famous once said that rejection is to a writer as snow is to an Eskimo. I tell myself that all the time. I always think it should help more than it does.
What does help me is hearing other writers talk about their rejections, and it’s not just because misery loves company. It’s comforting to know there are people out there who know exactly how I feel. In case that helps you too, here’s my rejection story.
A couple of weeks ago I got a form letter rejection in the mail. It’s been a while since I received one, so, in an effort to stem the tide of humiliation and doubt that tends to wash over me in the immediate aftermath of such unceremonious rejection, I jumped on my computer, called up the short story in question, and started reading.
Normally, this helps me. I don’t assume my stories aren’t good just because they’ve been rejected. Though every rejection stings and every one makes me feel like a literary bride left standing at the altar, I know there are a lot of factors that go into an editor’s decision about whether or not to publish a piece, and a surprising number of them aren’t about quality at all. Most often, I reread my story, renew my faith, and send it back out.
Unfortunately, as I read my story this time, my heart sank. Before I’d even reached the end of the first page, I could see it wasn’t very good, and I remembered the circumstances under which I’d written it. It had not been a story that took hold of me, interrupting my other work and demanding that I pay attention to it. Rather, it had been a story I slogged through, less the result of inspiration than the result of sheer, dogged determination.
Whatever inspired inkling I may have felt at the beginning, I lost before the end, hitting that sort of writer’s block that Anne Lamott talks about, a terrible sort of emptiness where there ought to be words. Still, I worked hard. Each day, I opened the file and hammered away at it, scene by shaky scene.
I wrote other things during that same time period. Things I felt passionate about, subjects I felt connected to, work that was eventually accepted for publication. When I finished that story, I did feel a sense of accomplishment, like maybe I’d slain a writing demon or two. I sent it off feeling proud of my ability to push through the block.
I’m actually still proud of that. Feeling blocked part way through a project can feel like a sort of death. It’s scary, and pushing through it is pretty badass.
But for me, this was a painful reminder that the key to getting published is to write from my heart. I need to write my passion. If I’m not feeling connected to my story, then I need to switch gears, write a blog post, work on an essay, break out my notebook and write something truly gutsy and wild. I can always come back to the story I’ve set aside if, at some point in the future, I feel its urgency again.
I’d love to hear your thoughts – on rejection, on getting blocked part way through your project, on dealing with the ups and inevitable downs of the writers life.
JUDY CLEMENT WALL is a freelance writer and Course Presenter for the Fear of Writing Online Course. Her short stories and personal essays have been published in literary journals and on some very cool websites. She just finished her first novel, Beautiful Lives, and here at FoW, she chronicles the ups and downs of a writer’s quest for publication. You can read more of her series here. Judy blogs about life, love, writing and cheesecake at Zebra Sounds.