Don’t let rejection freak you out (and goodbye, Phillip Levine)

I’ve mentioned it before: I receive a lot of rejections. The actual number, of course, varies upon the time of year, my confidence level and my writing output. I usually have three pieces out in circulation at any point, and with the average literary magazine accepting less than 1-5% of submissions–well, you do the math.

I’ve received hundreds of rejection letters, most impersonal form notices, though some include brief words of encouragement or support, and these I treasure. Because face it, writing is lonely and agonizing business, and unless you’re writing for a newspaper (been there, done that and trust me, it ain’t always that great), there’s very little daily feedback. Heck, you can go months or even years (years!) without positive feedback.


So I was really bummed last month when I heard that I wouldn’t be receiving the writer award at the San Miguel Writers Conference, which included conference registration and free lodging. Alice Walker was one of the speakers, along with Gloria Steinem–imagine meeting two such literary powerhouse women!.

Below is the actual rejection letter. Note that they took the time to address me by  name, a big plus, and also mention my submission title, and big plus. Trust me: Such courtesies can mean a lot to a writer when receiving rejection.

Dear Cinthia Ritchie,
Thank you for sending us “Hunger: A memoir (excerpt) “. We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, there were a lot of great pieces submitted and we have chosen a different writer to attend the 2015 San Miguel Writers’ Conference. .
Thanks again. Best of luck with this.
SM Writers Conference

So yeah, like I said, I was pretty bummed, though in the end it actually it turned out to be a blessing, since the conference was in early February, when my dog was dying. Imagine having to choose between being there for your dying dog and meeting Alice Walker (no offense, Alice, but I’d probably have chosen my dog and I’ll bet that you would have, too).

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Instead of moping around and feeling sorry for myself (okay, I did that too, and a large bag of pretzels and a chocolate bar may have been involved), I changed the beginning of the manuscript, polished it up and submitted it to the Time and Place Prize, which offers a month-long writing residency in France (yes, France), along with airfare. I wasn’t feeling very hopeful at that point, and yet I believed in my manuscript; I believed in my story.

So imagine my surprise, and pleasure, when the shortlist was announced this past weekend and my name was included among the six finalist.

I have a one in six chance of spending a month writing in France. And that wouldn’t have happened had I allowed rejection to define or tear me down.

Here’s the secret behind rejection: It can give you hope. Making a shortlist or runner-up or honorable mention status can be a huge verification. It can say that you’re on the right track, that your manuscript is solid, that it stood out from hundreds (and possibly thousands) of others.

So yeah, rejection doesn’t have to be a blaring red Stop sign to your writing future. Use it to your advantage and keep sending out those submissions, okay?

Talking about rejection and submitting, my writing friend Ela Harrison has a new poem, Lithium, up at The New England Review. Big congrats, Ela. So, so proud of you.

And speaking of poetry, goodbye to working class poet Phillip Levine. What an incredible loss. What an incredible man/poet. (Oh, honey, the way you use words.)

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What Work Is


We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don’t know what work is.

17 thoughts on “Don’t let rejection freak you out (and goodbye, Phillip Levine)

  1. This is fabulous news! FRANCE?! Good gracious, girl. I’ve got my fingers crossed for you! When do you find out? This post should be shared across the internet. Such wise advice. You win some, you lose some. Chin up. Keep going, keep writing, keep submitting.

    I’m so glad you linked this post to my monthly Hump Day Blog Hop. I love Wednesdays – especially the last Wednesday of the month when book bloggers, authors, and readers of women’s fiction add links like yours to the Hop. Such a fun day/week of visiting other sites to see what’s going on…

    So sad for the loss of Phillip Levine.

    This post was such a gem. Enjoyed it very much, Cinthia. Thank you.


  2. Wow, what an inspirational story. Even if you don’t make it to that cottage in Brittany, this is surely an enormous boost. Congratulations.


  3. Rejections suck no matter which we cut them, but they are great learning tools. Even the ones that offer no feedback, because it makes us question our work. CONGRATS on being shortlisted and good luck.


  4. I’ve dealt with rejection as a writer and now as a narrator and while it’s never easy, I agree that we can learn from it. Congrats on being shortlisted — hope you make it to France!


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