First, A Story Update: The story I mentioned in my last two posts has gone through a plot overhaul at the request of the editor, and I’m in the midst of another rewrite, so nothing to report yet. However, there is a bit of news on a different story, which I mention at the end of this blog! :)
Rejection and Revitalization
I’ve been writing my whole life, but I never thought about submitting my work for publication until a friend of my husband’s said he was teaching a writing class in New York City. He invited me to join, and I loved it. After polishing a few stories, I sent them out and managed to publish them in literary journals. But eventually I received a rejection letter. Then another. And another. Soon, rejection mowed down my confidence. I didn’t know what to do with the basket of letters on my desk, each one a husk of what was left of my soul. So I quit. I lost confidence and faith that I could continue to produce quality work.
What is it about rejection that makes us feel inconsequential, stupid, or judge ourselves harshly? I imagine the psychological answer is different for every person. Luckily, the practical solutions to lessening these feelings can be adopted by everyone. It took me a long time to understand the nature of literary rejection, but I think I finally figured out a few things I’d like to share:
1) Before submitting to literary journals, take a writing class or two. I prefer studying one on one, so I search for teachers who offer mentorships. Writing groups are okay, too, but I’ve had better results from working with professionals. Many of them are writers themselves, or they are freelance editors with experience in publishing. Check out their credentials before you hire them and see if they mesh with what you are trying to accomplish.
2) Submitting short stories and/or novels in general is a numbers game. It might seem like its more than that, but in its simplest form, that’s exactly what it is. If your writing is the best it can be, then it’s merely a matter of time before it speaks to someone. The trick is to keep learning and keep submitting.
3) Accept that submitting your writing is a pain in the patootie. It’s exciting, of course, but it’s also hard work. Researching the appropriate journals to send to will take up a good chunk of time, so set aside a part of your weekend just for this task. Read a couple of stories from the journals you wish to submit to. Read the guidelines and follow them carefully. I find, if you go in with the right mindset, the rest seems easy.
4) Rejection teaches you many lessons, if you’re open to receiving them. From my basket of rejection letters, from those frayed bits of my soul, sprung new energy and resolve—a harvest of revitalized stories. Rejection isn’t the enemy. Giving up is.
Even though I stopped submitting stories all those years ago, I never stopped writing. I filled file upon file with unfinished stories and novels. But no one publishes unfinished work, and this is my final tip:
5) Finish as many stories as you can. It doesn’t matter if they suck. Finish them and put them away until you find the right words to make them un-sucky. I recently rewrote an old piece I’d filed away years ago. I’d finished it, wrote “the end,” but something didn’t feel right. I couldn’t figure out what it was, so it remained in my “In Progress” file, until recently, when I suddenly saw what was missing. Apparently, this story needed a longer baking time. I’m not against taking creative breaks—I take my share of them when needed. But finishing is the key to success. Plus, it just feels damn good!
The Good News
And then it happened. Yes! I published a story. After, quitting, re-committing, and submitting to one journal after another, I published my story, “Slice of Pie” in the spring 2023 edition of “The Avalon Literary Review.” I also got a glowing rejection from a major literary journal, which boosted my confidence almost as much as the publication.
So, was all my hard work worth it? I mean, very few people read literary journals. But my answer is still—hell yes. Because it’s the journey. These last years have taught me a lot. Mainly that there is nothing more frustrating, more soul-crushing, more character building, more exhilarating than the business of writing. I’m trying to communicate my very soul and tell stories people will love. The journey is most definitely fraught. And I love every minute of it.
Until next time,
*Support literary journals: My story “Slice of Pie” was published in the spring 2023 edition of “The Avalon Literary Review.” Thanks to editor Valerie Rubino for liking my words enough to share them.