rejection

October 15, 2008

Or: How about a post on writing?

One of my essays has now been rejected four times. It’s a piece about a trip we took to Spain a few years back, a piece about how travel abroad can bring out the most beastly behavior in children–with actual examples of my children’s beastliness. It’s also about how it’s worth putting up with that beastliness–from adults as well as kids–for the shift in perspective that travel can offer.

It’s a long essay, one I’ve worked at and am especially proud of. Which probably guarantees its likelihood of being rejected.

Years ago, when I first started writing, I sent a few pieces out to magazines. When they were sent back to me, I realized that my writing just wasn’t ready yet. It wasn’t good enough. So I wrote for a long time, for over a decade, before submitting anything again.

Once my writing began hinting at being publication-worthy, there was the challenge of finding the right publications. My first published essay, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek piece which I called “How To Homeschool” (and which Mothering later retitled) was rejected twice before Mothering took it. I’m guessing that the homeschooling magazine I sent it to first found its form too “literary” and strange. On the other hand, the literary parenting magazine I sent it to next found it too homeschool-ish. I know this because one of the editors kindly took the time to tell me how much she liked it, but that her senior editors found its tone too “smug.” Which I suppose it was. I’d written it for people who might be considering homeschooling, not for more general readers.

It finally occurred to me that Mothering was a nice balance between the other two publications: they publish literary essays; they also publish on alternative topics like homeschooling. Bingo! They took the piece, which thrills me still.

The Spain essay hasn’t been so easy. The second rejection, in fact, arrived in my email inbox the very same day in which I submitted the essay. And while I appreciate a speedy response, a same-day response was, well, disheartening. That editor wrote: “The “telling” in this essay seems to cover a great deal of ground, and the essay might be better served by trying a series of scenes that capture these observations within each scene and in dialogue between characters.” Well! Can I tell you how hard I wanted to slam the delete button on that email? But I didn’t. I filed the email away. Later I opened it. And reworked the essay. Found a scene from page three and pulled it up front. How could I not have considered that before? Now the essay’s introduction tied directly to the ending! It was just what the essay needed! I submitted it again.

 It got rejected twice more.

There are only so many markets for longer parenting essays. With each submission I’ve scaled down, sent the essay to a smaller publication. At this point I’m looking at the essay and wondering if it’s too flawed. Too few scenes? Too long? Too much Veruca Salt-like behavior from the kids? Or maybe it just hasn’t reached the right publication at the right time. I could just file it away for a while, but instead I’m sending it off to an even bigger publication, one with an even stronger repertoire of excellent writers, a pie-in-the-sky publication for me.  Why not? What the heck?

Last year, my friend Melissa was applying to MFA programs in poetry. She had doubts about whether she’d be accepted—she didn’t know if her background was right, if her poetry was good enough. But still she was excited with the possibility. She told me one night as we were driving to our writing group, “It’s fun making waves in your own life.”

I wrote that line down, and every time I submit an essay, I think of it. Because although the essay may get rejected, there’s always that time in the interim when the possibility of publication is there, when hope hovers in the air. It’s fun making waves in your own life.

 P.S. Melissa started her MFA program in September.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

suzee October 16, 2008 at 7:20 pm

What a wonderful thought.

Sometimes it’s hard to know whether continuing to knock at the same door is tenacity or insanity. My own experience suggests it’s about 50/50. But you WILL find the success you want. Maybe not at this door, with this piece (or maybe next time you knock!). But you will. (I promise!)

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melissa s. October 18, 2008 at 8:45 am

I like the idea of making waves in life, too. Without challenges, life would be pretty boring.
Good luck with your submissions. I adored your essay and have faith that your other writings will find their right place in the publishing world.

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stefaneener October 18, 2008 at 4:07 pm

Yes, keep doing. I know that the rejection process isn’t much fun. Part and parcel of the writing life, I’m afraid. Aim for the sky — what fun it will be when it works!

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susan October 19, 2008 at 4:01 pm

Have you tried Brain, Child? It’s a selfish suggestion–I subscribe and I’d love to read your essay.

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patricia October 19, 2008 at 10:36 pm

Thanks to you all, dear commiserators. If I can’t get that essay published eventually, I can always publish it here! I didn’t write the rejection post looking for pity, though. I was more interested in capturing the journey that publication can be. And the idea that even though a piece might get rejected, you can always send it back out, and create another chance for yourself. Another wave in your life.

Suzee, I’m going with your 50/50 theory. You ought to know–you’re a woman who’s made a lot of life waves lately!

And Susan, thanks for leaving a comment! Yes, Brain Child was the first place I sent the essay. (They weren’t the quick rejectors I wrote about; their rejection letter was thoughtful and even personal.) The good news is that they’ve had another of my essays under consideration for a while now. They may not take it, but one of the editors likes it, and that’s something!

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