So far in 2018, my work has been rejected more than 30 times. More than 20 by literary or other magazines, 6 by literary agents, 1 by a graduate program.
When I got the rejection from the graduate program, I felt disappointed, confused, at peace, then markedly more confused, followed by a chaser of confusion and peace. And then I felt relief and I still feel relief coupled with a little bit of confusion. I think that’s about the truest feeling I can describe upon being rejected. It’s so rarely just one singular feeling that wraps around one’s tender ego and that plugs up the heart from leaking out rejection tears. It’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that unexpected other thing that mingle together in the rejection cocktail. Even when relationships didn’t work out, this was my experience. A lot bit sad, a little bit relieved. A strong portion of UMMM WUT? and a slice of the OH GOOD, one fewer people to revolve my life around, hey?
Rejection always stings not because it’s a denial of one’s work or one’s companionship. It’s a rejection of something one has chosen with which to be vulnerable. This is why self-preservation is such a powerful reflex for some of us. If we don’t make ourselves vulnerable, we won’t deal with rejection. Nor will we ever see our work published or experience deep love or anything that places our vulnerability at risk?
I decided that 2018 was going to be my year to aim for at least 104 rejections (2 for each week of the year). It’s not enough to say I want to be published because publication is a moving target on quaaludes. If I play the rejection numbers game, it’s like that old corndog adage about aiming for the moon but landing among the stars.
And my work has found a soft place to land in a couple of publications, and that has felt even better. Better than the sting of rejection is the feeling of acceptance. What they don’t tell you about acceptance as a writer, though, is that it begins from within and it has to be a continuous renewal process. It’s very difficult if not impossible to receive the acceptance of a publication and to really appreciate what it represents if you haven’t accepted your own strengths and limitations as a writer, as an artist. I’m not so self-actualized that I can read things I wrote, like things I wrote two sentences ago, and don’t want to find a nice cement mixer and fling myself underneath its direct pour. Fortunately, that feeling becomes more fleeting, though, the more vulnerable we make ourselves, the more practiced we become at receiving rejection and putting it in its place.
That’s why I’m aiming for a year of rejections, because aiming for the moon still nets me some stars, and seeing the moon up close must be pretty cool, too.