On the first day of summer 2016 I received a rejection email from a literary journal. The publication, which will go nameless, sent me a boilerplate message. I was thanked for my submission, was told that what I submitted would not be used, and was wished the best of luck on all my future writing endeavors. On the longest day of the year I received the shortest of emails. I must confess that there is no magical way to deal with rejection emails. A writer can do one of the following when he or she experiences a rejection of their finished work: give up or write once more. If I am asked for my opinion, I strongly suggest writing once more.
I have been writing in earnest, creatively, for years. I am the guy that waxed floors at Wal-Mart and wrote short stories in a three subject college ruled notebook at two in the morning during my lunch break. When I had a route job delivering magazines and books to various businesses, I arrived long before grocery stores opened their doors to vendors and struggled with a poem’s line breaks in the cab of a truck before sunrise. The passion that I have for writing has been met largely in part with rejections. I know that the life of a writer involves being told that one’s submission “shows promise,” or that publishing is “subjective.” Rejections from agents and editors are a lot gentler than they once were. The kind comments mixed with an outright rejection is confusing. I miss the days when I received a rejection slip from The Paris Review. At least the Review editors let me know with as few words as possible that my work had no place in their publication.
Whenever I face a rejection a process begins. I accept the news of rejection and then I take a moment to question why I write. During a streak of repeated failure to see my name in print, I wonder honestly if I am wasting my time with writing. I also debate with myself if I should continue writing. Let’s face it, at this point of my career, if I was to stop writing NPR would not devote a segment of their morning or evening news program asking where I was and if I was still writing.
Ultimately, the power that a rejection email has over my life ends the moment I write again. If I were to write only after having a poem published I would own a lot of blank sheets of paper. I wish I can possess some Zen perspective about rejections like “a story lives even if no one reads it,” or “in rejection I found my literary voice.” I am not Zen about rejections. I only possess an honest evaluation of rejections: rejections are painful.
Over the years, after every rejection, I find myself writing again. I do not write with a new sense of purpose after a rejection. I do not gain a new perspective after rejections. I simply sit before my laptop or typewriter and fill the page. When a draft is complete, I find the nearest working pen, or sharpest pencil, and begin revising a draft of a work for another submission. The more I write, the less the rejection emails matter. When I write and a first draft is completed, I do not think about the editor that told me no. When I write and a first draft is completed, I think about the creative force that told me yes.
Devan Burton’s chapbook In Quiet Hours will be published on Amazon this December.