I read this story recently in Poets & Writers. It may be a parable about stick-to-it-iveness, or perhaps it’s an invitation to apply the vision of hindsight to our current ambitions. Bear with me.
Daniel Wallace, the author of six novels including a New York Times bestseller, has tried for more than thirty years to publish in The New Yorker. When he first began submitting work there in 1984, The New Yorker defined literary success for him. His stories landed on the desk of the fiction editor, Daniel Menacer, who eventually began jotting “a little something” on the rejected pages. “I had no idea who this person was,” Wallace writes, “and it didn’t really matter because at that time in my life, editors were all-powerful demigods whose approval would allow me entry into the world I hungrily watched from afar.” Over the first six years, Menaker’s rejections grew personal and encouraging. One story he even called “very good…as far as it goes.” He actually invited Wallace to continue submitting. Writers call such comments “good rejections.” (more…)
(A big thanks to participants in the Book Binders’ Salon for a stimulating conversation last night about rejection. I’m indebted to you for most of this post!)
“Rejections slips,” wrote Isaac Asimov, “however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil – but there is no way around them.”
The hard reality for every writer is that we face rejection prior to publication—from grantors, contests, agents, and publishers—and after publication, in the form of bad reviews (if we’re lucky enough to have our work reviewed), readers’ scorn, and sales numbers. These “lacerations of the soul” are a given. We fear their sting long before we feel it. Once we’re rejected, and rejected repeatedly, it’s impossible not to be affected. We believe the rejections, we form a thick skin, we reject our writing prematurely so others don’t have to do it for us, we despair, we rebel and self-publish, we lash out at the publishing industry, and (hopefully) we return to our desks to continue writing.
It’s so easy to get thrown off kilter. (more…)