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).
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?
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.)
What Work Is