j’s Journey: Rejection Like Snow

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.

15 Responses to j’s Journey: Rejection Like Snow
  1. Michael
    August 23, 2011 | 1:29 AM

    My baptism into the cycle of rejection is coming. I’ve made peace with it, although I’m sure it will still sting. I’m kinda looking forward to it in a sick, twisted way. I’m choosing to think of them as tattoos, or scars I’ll have earned, ones that are inevitable but prove that I’ve dared.

    When I’m crying in my gin one day, remind me that I said this in a stoic moment, okay?

    • j
      August 23, 2011 | 10:33 AM

      Ha! Maybe you’ll be the first writer I know who never gets rejected! If not, your drink’s on me, baby.

  2. Julia
    Twitter: wordsxo
    August 23, 2011 | 10:31 AM

    Rejections…enough snow to build a snowman here. And I hate that feeling of reviewing something (after the rejection) and having that sinking feeling. I’ve had it before and no doubt will again…. for me it’s usually less about passion for the subject/story and more about not taking the time to really make sure it’s done, polished, and good enough for publication.

    • j
      August 23, 2011 | 10:36 AM

      Yes, I’ve experienced that too. As hard as it is to get rejected when you’re sure your story is good, it’s better than that feeling of not having put your best out there. At least when you have faith in your story, you can send it back out again, which feels productive.

      Thank you for commenting. I feel better just knowing you’re here. 😉

  3. Tricia
    Twitter: Tricia_Sutton
    August 23, 2011 | 1:21 PM

    I don’t like snow.

    I just got a rejection for a short story I submitted 362 days ago. The hurt is not so much from the rejection, heck, I forgot I sent it, it’s from being notified 302 days late. Their guidelines say you’ll hear from them no later than 60 days after submission. It was overlooked AND rejected. That hurts.

    • j
      August 24, 2011 | 2:10 PM

      Gah! It would have been better for them not to bother after all that time. Sometimes I want to edit a lit mag just so I can do rejections “right.” *hug*

  4. Estrella Azul
    August 24, 2011 | 1:58 PM

    Thank you so much for sharing this, j! It’s not easy to talk about rejection. Ever.
    Your thoughts about working on stories, posts, articles you’re passionate about rang so true – I can’t really work on anything that I don’t feel anything for. Just like a love story I guess, some sparks need to be there for me to know it’s the right story to pursue.

    • j
      August 24, 2011 | 2:11 PM

      Yeah, it was harder to write this post than I’d anticipated it would be. BUT, I did feel passionately the need to share, so there’s that. 😉

  5. Fear of Writing
    Twitter: fearofwriting
    August 24, 2011 | 5:44 PM

    Unlike Tricia, I once got a rejection that was SO fast it felt like a harsh slap in the face. Reasoning with myself about why that might have happened did not lessen the sting one little bit. (It’s about 10 years later and that one still springs to mind first.)

    I loved this part from your post:

    “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.”

    I agree. It’s comforting in just about any situation to know that someone else knows how it feels. With writers perhaps even more so, because writing can be a lonely pursuit fraught with so much rejection. And not necessarily something we can debrief on with our nearest and dearest to the extent where we feel they can relate to us (unless they, too, are writers). I love that you’ve opened a place here where we can talk about it without shame. Or at least in good company. 🙂

    • j
      August 27, 2011 | 2:46 PM

      I think when the turnaround is that quick, you can tell yourself they didn’t read it. (That’s what I did.)

  6. […] wrote about rejection here. (You should go. Offer me a shoulder. It was a harder post to write than I thought it would […]

  7. Lucy Pollard-Gott
    August 27, 2011 | 12:07 AM

    Yes, it does seem that we often do our best writing as an exuberant “interruption” or detour off the road of what we’re “supposed” to be working on. But every instance is different. This time the story you had to push through a block to finish was a personal victory but not your favorite final product. The next time might be totally different, and pushing through a block might discover a breakthrough on the other side–a yellow-brick road to a new creative Oz!

    Thanks for sharing this experience that so many (all!) writers can identify with. And thanks also for modeling balanced self-examination without “awfulizing” and ending with self-encouragement!

    • j
      August 27, 2011 | 2:49 PM

      That’s true. And I have had both outcomes. There have been times (usually when I’ve got a deadline) where pushing through was necessary and, as it turns out, just what I needed to get the story I was after. But, more often than not, when I’m chasing a fire that has truly burned out, there’s a reason. When I sense that somewhere along the way I lost my faith in the story, I need to let it go… at least until I feel the fire again.

  8. Kenneth Hopkins
    September 5, 2011 | 12:47 PM

    J, although I have never submitted any of my works for publication, I identify so much with your experience, maybe in anticipation, but definitely in the writing of things that grip you initially, but somewhere along the way, the passion, focus, and “grip” are for whatever reason are set aside.

    I am glad that you pushed through it regardless, for that is a lesson in itself, as well as being able to set it aside to do other things. This is especially fittinig for me now as I look to my writing projects and to what does, or does not, grip me.

    I’ll be pondering this more. Thanks for bringing us on your journey, and helping guide the path to ours

  9. 6 degrees | Life's a stage – WebBlog
    October 7, 2011 | 5:10 AM

    […] comment was prompted by my post, which started when I read Estrella’s post, highlighting J Clement Wall’s writing about her publishing journey, which was posted on, of all places, Milli’s Fear of Writing […]

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