Literary Restraining Order- Facing Rejection

Like many writers, I have written the world’s greatest novel.  Like many writers, I have a box full of rejection letters.

When a writer submitted a story to a magazine, in the old days, the editors of that magazine wanted you to include a SASE (Self Addressed, Stamped Envelope) so that the magazine did not have to foot the bill for mailing the rejection letter.  Occasionally an editor would physically write you a letter saying, “Sorry, no.”  Most just sent a Xeroxed rejection letter.

I used to submit to Field & Stream regularly, on the premise that since I wrote funny stories about hunting and fishing, and they published funny stories about hunting and fishing, we might develop a relationship.  We did develop a relationship, just not a healthy one.  I’m sure they would have filed a Literary Restraining Order against me if there were such a thing.

Field & Stream sent me an identical Xeroxed rejection letter in my SASE every time.  I know it was Xeroxed because the letterhead and text were slightly askew and I could see the black lines down the edge of the page that indicated sloppy copy technique.   I began including my own Xeroxed copy of their rejection letter in my SASE to save them the time and trouble of reproducing yet another copy.  I thought that even if they rejected whatever story I was submitting, they would at least get a kick out of the pre-made rejection letter.  Nope.  You’d think they might have, at the very least, drawn a smiley face on the letter.  Nothing.  Once they even inserted another copy of their rejection letter into the envelope that contained my copy.  That particular story received the dubious distinction of a simultaneous double rejection from the same periodical.  Sweet.

In the old days, the SASE days, you printed out your manuscript and mailed it off, certain in the knowledge that four to six weeks later your SASE would return to your mail box containing at least one- two if you were lucky- Xeroxed rejection letters.   Everyday I would go to the mail box and hope that today was the day I had found that just-right editor.  I did not know it then, but the best part about that system was that mail only came once a day.  You might get multiple rejection letters on any given day, but because the mail only came once a day, you only had to worry about rejection once a day.  Now we have email submissions and thus there is the threat of rejection every time I hit the SEND/RECEIVE button.   It’s enough to shake a fella.

I have a tendency, on my darker days, to dislike the gatekeepers, to believe that the people who stuff the Xeroxed rejection letters in to the SASEs are blind to my particular brand of genius.  In truth, the letter-stuffers are probably just interns, so lay off of them.  But every now and then, every great and beautiful now and then, your submission falls into the fingers of an editor who had a good night, has had their coffee, is in a good mood, and is looking for exactly what you have submitted.

In 2001 Steven Soderbergh won the Oscar for Best Director.  I hope I never forget his speech.  He said, “I just want to thank everyone who spends at least part of their day creating.”  And I thought, “Wow, he’s talking to me.”

Writers, actors, poets, and artists of just about every ilk are, as far as I can tell, the only group of people who purposely set themselves up for constant, sometimes daily, rejection.  We continually subject ourselves to the process of creating works to present to editors, agents and directors who choose to go with someone else.  I know (or at least hope) that these editors are not rejecting me out of malice or scorn, but because they are simply inundated with many, many submissions- some of which are better than mine.  That’s the business.  One trick to continuing to produce good art is to hold fast to the idea that out there somewhere- somewhere just on the other side of your email SENT file- is the one agent or editor who totally freaking gets you and knows the perfect publication or press to print your stuff.

The artist works, I believe, to please two people: The artist works to please himself/herself.  And the artist works to please the one other person in the whole wide world who appreciates his or her work.  That second person isn’t always easy to find, but keep working, keep creating, keeping hitting the SEND/RECEIVE button, keep taking the stage, and eventually you will find that one person.  And that one person makes every single rejection seem stupid and trivial- but rejection letters aren’t stupid.  Rejection letters are like birthday candles, or mile markers, or scars.  Sometimes you have to collect a few before you can actually get anywhere.

Oh- and my favorite bumper stick about art reads “Just because you are misunderstood doesn’t mean you are an artist.”

Bil Lepp ©2013

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9 Responses to Literary Restraining Order- Facing Rejection

  1. After many years of rejection, I now have an editor and an agent. But I have saved those piles of rejection letters as a salutary reminder that the writing business has no future guarantees!!

    Good luck with your quest…

  2. Les Preece says:

    Bil We non-artist who are constantly seeking employment have the same issues. So we feel your pain. Love your stories man. Keep up the fight and we won’t take your parking space at the Y.

  3. Linda Dust says:

    Thanks for posting this, Bil. Kinda needed that today!

  4. Clare says:

    “Writers, actors, poets, and artists of just about every ilk are, as far as I can tell, the only group of people who purposely set themselves up for constant, sometimes daily, rejection.”

    Bil,
    indeed we do. We set ourselves up for the possibility of rejection because we risk ourselves (and our sanity) on the gamble that we have something worth saying and something worth hearing. That risk is what can make the art better. As Ben Okri wrote in his book of essays on storytelling (A Way of Being Free)

    “…They risked their sanity and consciousness in the service of dreaming better futures. They risked madness, or being unmoored in the wild realms of unknown interspaces, or being devoured by the unexpected demons of the communal imagination. When great storytellers die, a thousand years of unconfronted journeys, unguided journeys towards the deceptive lights of future civilisations also perish in their silence.”

    Lets keep risking it.

  5. paulette says:

    Glad you didn’t compare rejection letters to mother-in-laws. I am safe for now. Loved your blog by the way.

  6. Madge says:

    I’m a wanna-be writer. I’ve dabbled in it for over 3 decades now, still waiting for that great light bulb in the sky to go on over my head that contains the quintessential “Novel idea.” I’ve had a few short stories accepted, but simply for the honor of being able to say I’ve been published; but I want to retire from my part-time job that feels like a full-time job. You know, the job that is supposed to afford me extra time to write; yet consumes my every thought and action. Thanks for giving me a little unexpected, accidentally stumbled upon, encouragement this morning.
    I used to have a blog, but that too has fallen prey to the demands of the J-O-B.

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