Rejections: Badges of Honor

Every time I receive a rejection from a literary journal I tell myself  “It’s a badge of honor. ”  Sometimes I even do a happy dance and shout out a little whoot whoot, you know, as if it were something to celebrate.  And in a way it really is.  When my work is rejected, that means I have submitted my work; I’ve tried to get it out there in the world.  For someone who in the past spent a lot of time not just not doing, but not even trying, it’s important for me to give myself credit for trying.

I tell myself that rejection is not personal, it may just be the editor or slush pile reader has a different aesthetic than I do.

When I worked at Blue Mesa Review (as managing editor one semester, and often as a volunteer reader of slush, currently as web editor which reminds me I have some work to do on the site) we rejected a lot of good work.  Sometimes a piece just didn’t get enough “yes” votes to make it to the discussion round.  Sometimes a good piece would make it to discussion and it wouldn’t have enough support to make it into print.  Sometimes a piece was too long, or too short, or not deep enough or too experimental, and even if we loved the prose style and the character and setting maybe the character didn’t change enough.  Sometimes the piece just didn’t fit in with what we’d already selected.  It’s hard to say, it’s like some secret algorithm that no one can decipher.

I tell myself a lot of things that are cliche:

  • That I should pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again
  • If at first I don’t succeed I must try try again
  • Rejection is the opportunity to start over
  • Success come to those who persist
  • It’s like the lottery, I gotta play to win

 

I remind myself that many other authors have been rejected many times, relishing tales of now famous writers and the rejections they received– writers like Stephen King,  William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Ursula LeGuin, Gertrude Stein, to name a few.  I remember a reading by Elizabeth Gilbert; she said it was not her job to pre-reject herself, she figured that  someone at the New Yorker was paid to do the rejecting.  It’s not that I celebrate the failure of others, it’s that it encourages to me to know that rejection didn’t  mean failure, it didn’t mean their writing wasn’t/isn’t good.  And maybe the same is true for me.

I know all this when I send out my work. I understand that it’s part of the deal, it’s what I signed up for when I decided to call myself writer.  And still, sometimes it stings to get a rejection.

But when all is said and done, what I cling to is the knowledge that:

I write for myself first, because even if sometimes I cry or grumble or get angry when I write, I enjoy it, I need it.

What I have to say is important.

 

My first official foray into fiction

I have been quite remiss in updating this blog, but rest assured it is NOT because I’m not writing (though truth be told I could be writing more).

Last semester I took a Fiction workshop.  And I grumbled and groused the whole way through.  I found writing fiction to be difficult, overwhelming, kind of like shopping in a big box store:  shelves filled with product, no one to help you reach the stuff way up high, too many choices.  With creative non-fiction you’re limited by “the truth” (however you define that).

GdadThe first story I submitted to workshop was not completely embarrassing. I had one character (very loosely based on a friend’s ex-husband) who was obsessed with Thomas Kinkaide paintings and villages.  An interesting character, but I never could figure out how to create an authentic confrontation and make something happen in the story…
The next story I tried to write was strongly based in setting, a place I love dearly, Torrey Pines State Reserve in San Diego County.  Specifically a part that a friend and I used to call The Hill of Truth–  the mile walk from the far end of the parking lot to the top, 3/4 of it up hill.

An excerpt:

About half way up The Hill is a small landing with a big torrey pine leaning out as if to catch a glimpse of the landscape below. This is my rest spot, my tree.  I don’t really need a break– I’d been hiking The Hill at a more leisurely pace– but I stop anyway.  From here, the coast highway swirls into the village of Del Mar along the beach, and if I’m lucky I’ll see a train roll through, skimming the top of the lagoon before ducking under the highway to hug the cliff heading north.

….

This road is narrow, and cuts into the hill revealing the earth’s strata and geological upheavals. As I take the next switchback, I see a history displayed in rich warm colors, layers of eons, some nearly vertical, some displaced by tectonic shifts and earthquakes.

….

The earth still shifts here, chunks of cliff falling with some frequency. And some days if I am paying attention, I see new pieces on the side of the road, new bits of history on display….

But every scene I wrote started to sound like a bad YA novel: betrayal, boys and bad dialog. I didn’t turn it in.

Morning CoffeeAnd then I heard a story about a woman that wouldn’t stop crying.  And so I wrote what I called “Morning Coffee,”  (I wanted to call it “Mourning Coffee” but restrained myself).

Dan Mueller insisted should be called “Our House is Like Switzerland.”

Dan had also said that my story reminded him of Bartleby the Schrivner by Herman Mellville, a story that I had never read.

The final requirement for the class was to revise a piece to completion, and submit it somewhere.  And so, when I found this literary journal, Bartleby Snopes, named after two famous literary characters one of whom was Barleby the Schrivner, I thought is was fate. Or something.  I was compelled to submit my story there.

And it was accepted!

Now the fun part…  some things you may recognize:  my green coat, my cousin Katie’s blue hair, and big ole orange tom cat who liked to be vacuumed, my two cats…   the rest is fiction.

Looking back, and of course with the success of publication under my belt and the warm fuzzy feeling that comes with that, I think maybe fiction can be fun.  Like collaging, you can take a little bit from here, a little bit from there and paste it all together and create something.

This semester I’m back in the world of cnf, but taking a class about the novel.  One of the requirements for that class is to plan our novel, so who knows!

Write A Thon Wrap Up

Not all the writing prompts worked well for me…
For this particular session, we received an envelope filled with randomly selected letters that was supposed to inspire us to write about our destiny.

My first response:
WTF: playing with letters
Note I had to cut up a letter to make that work.

And then I came up with this:
Chooz Letters

It’s kinda scary how my brain works. This may eventually work for me, to use in my writing, or it may become my new mantra: Live Like There is No Tomorrow or Defy Destiny.

Last year’s mantra was Why Not Me. But I think I need to move on from that.
Do you have a mantra?

I’m just so honored to be nominated….

It’s bullshit. I want to win. I’m tired of being nominated. Yeah, I said I didn’t really care, that I was so honored to get invited in for an interview…. that I totally would understand if they had the single, non-soccer mom, non-property-owner, no tax deductions, north county coastal liberal perspective covered.

But I lied.

I lied to myself. I care. It sucks that I was rejected. Again.

I really wanted to be a part of the Citizen Voices project.

So sure, it was an honor to make it to Round 2, to be asked to submit additional writing samples. It was an honor to be asked to come in for an interview… to drive an hour out of my bubble to get stuck in traffic on the way home… to meet a bunch of really cool people and have a great conversation that we called an interview. But dammit, I’m disappointed.

So why not me?

My new friend Aaryn sent me a link to this:
http://elizabethgilbert.com/writing.htm

My sister said, “I know just how you feel, Jenn. When I was a dancer I was rejected all the time for lots of reasons which had nothing to do with my talent: not tall enough, not thin enough, not fat enough, not blonde… ” reminding me that being in any creative endeavor, you need to have a tough skin.

Not sure I have a tough skin, but I do have a lot of awesome people cheering me on from the sidelines.

KPBS Citizen Voices Project. Round 2

Yeah me! I made it through to Round 2, and the producer has asked for more writing samples.

Let me preface the next commentary with saying that 1. I love KPBS and 2. I welcome the opportunity to apply for the Citizen Voices project and 3. I have no idea how I would choose blogger/writers…

HOWEVER.

The email request has been weighing heavy on my brain for the last four days:

We’ve finished reviewing applicants and have narrowed it down to a very small group. You’re in that group and we’re requesting a bit more information to better understand everyone’s political leanings. In no more than one sentence for each issue, let us know where you stand:

War in Iraq:

Immigration:

Health care:

Education:

Taxation:

Gun control:

Same-sex marriage:

Abortion:

Separation of Church/State:

In addition, we’d like to see more of your writing. Please respond (in 300 words or less) to this question:

If the presidential election were tomorrow, who would you vote for and why?

eeeeegads! The last assignment– to sum up who you are, and your “unique perspective” in 500 words– all of the sudden seems easy!

Issues like those listed above are far more complex than one sentence. I admit I stretched some of those answers as far as I could while still maintaining one, creatively long sentence. Hopefully that kind of creativity will count in my favor.

Anyway when I know more, I’ll share.

On another note… through my blog, and my application for the Citizen Voices project I “met” Aaryn, writer of RubySoho blog. We compared notes via email, read each others submissions, commiserated over the fact that we were “going for it” even though it was scary, and wondered what other San Diego bloggers had applied… She didn’t get into the narrowed down group. I’m bummed, as I’m sure she is as well. Do stop by her blog. Give her a read. She really is a good writer, and her posts and pics about her daughter are particularly fabulous.

I’m Better Out Loud!

My entry, Letters From Heaven, was selected for San Diego Writers, Ink Audio Anthology : Year 3.

Whew. After all the rejection I was feeling like maybe I am not a writer. But maybe, just maybe I am better out loud than on the page.

The coolest part is that we get to re-record our submission at the KPBS (public radio) station.

If you want a sneak peek, check out the September Stories over at the First Friday Prose website. If you want to hear me live and in person, come to the Third Anniversary Party for First Fridays on December 7th.