rejection


by Susan Tepper

Susan-Tepper200w

No.  No, no, no, no, no.  Yes—  we’ve all had weeks of those words (sometimes multiples on the same day!) where our incredible story or poem or essay or novel manuscript has come back to hit us in the face.  A story of mine was called ‘regurgitated sit-com’.  The ‘editor’ who wrote that back to me didn’t have the balls to sign his or her name.

Different writers respond differently to ‘rejection’.  When I was teaching brand- new writers, I made a conscious choice to not use the word rejection but instead called it a turn down.  New writers can be crucified by rejection.  I’ve seen very talented new writers throw in the towel because of badly formed turn down letters.

But, here, for the sake of ease, let’s use the currently accepted term: rejection.

Nobody actually likes it.  Some of us have come to terms with it more easily than others.  I do know writers who are published constantly then have a total freak-out when they get a rejection.  This kind of behavior is a bit much.

It taught me how subjective the writing business can be (it is a business).

Nobody can expect everyone to love everything we put out there.  When I was a newbie writer studying in NYC, an editor from The New Yorker came to our class as guest speaker.  This editor and our writing teacher got into a little offhand conversation about a newly published story in The New Yorker magazine.  They both disliked the story.  But apparently enough people at The New Yorker liked it enough to publish it.  So there you go!  That moment was a big eye-opener for me.  It taught me how subjective the writing business can be (it is a business).  And knowing that took a lot of the heat off rejections.

Down the line I learned that often pieces of work are accepted for reasons other than merit.  I learned about the politics of writing as the years went by.  That was something less nourishing for me as a writer.  It taught me to stay clear of the politics of writing when I became an editor at two literary magazines.  I can say with a fair amount of pride that at those magazines we never chose any work that didn’t delight and inform us, regardless of the particular writer’s track record or lack thereof.  It was while editing at those magazines that I learned there is an art to telling someone you will not be accepting the work they submitted.

Magazine editors that are sensitive to this situation (after all, most are writers too) will often use a short, polite form letter to turn down work.  We had that set-up at both mags.  We also had a little box where the person turning down the work could choose to write a short note to the submitter.  If the story held promise but just needed a little more (of something), well this was a good place to make that suggestion to the writer.  Most people accepted what you suggested and moved on.  Occasionally someone took umbrage and came back with a rebuttal.  Our editorial policy was to ignore those little outbursts.  We writers, even the blustery ones, are sensitive souls, and many become easily hurt and offended.

I think it’s important that editors hold onto the realization that they are dealing with someone’s ‘private matters’ despite how fictionalized the material might be.  All writing comes from that subterranean space of heart and mind.  That should be respected.  When editors take it upon themselves to act aggressively toward a submission, or throw out insulting language, they are hurting themselves as well as the writer and the writing they choose to denigrate.  Each time someone acts in a vicious or sarcastic or mean-spirited way toward someone else, for no good reason whatsoever, they are damaging all of society, not to mention chipping away at their own wholeness.  Do it too many times and you have a fractured being who will level all sorts of harm toward the world at large.

It is my belief system that we have to acknowledge the good in each piece of writing (even if it’s just one sentence or paragraph), and respect that writer for their courage and intelligence to put it out into the world.  If writers are treated in a respectful way, that sentence or paragraph will grow and expand over time into larger and better writing.  Words carry enormous weight.  People often say the most harmful things to other people, or about them.  Then, when confronted they will respond: It’s not what I meant.

Really?  Then why say it at all?  How can trashing someone’s story or poem or essay make you a better writer, editor, or person?  Respect is the big issue.  If we try and respect all writerly output, hopefully the courtesy will be returned.  This is a difficult business.  We need our friends.  We need to keep making more friends.  We need the writer chain to grow and strengthen, if we are going to continue along this path. Words, when properly used, can heal and move things in ways that seem  impossible.

So—  getting back to rejection.  Like everyone who has been writing a long time, I have been rejected in all forms.  On paper for years through the mail, now almost exclusively via email.  I’ve had mostly decent and impersonal rejections.

Unfortunately I did get that recent one that kind of stood my hair on end.  Regurgitated sit-com material?  First it felt like a letter from someone who deeply disliked me.  Like an old lover hurling his vitriol.  I looked up the masthead and saw that I ‘knew’ all but one of the editors.  I felt sort of shocked.  Then it struck me funny because I would love to write a sit-com and make lots of money.  Maybe this rejection was a message to me.  Maybe it was a new path opening.

There is an art to rejection.  There is a way of saying: I love you but I can’t marry you.  There is a way of saying: your dress is gorgeous but this is a barbecue.  There is a way of saying: I dig your tamales but my stomach is acting up.  There are so many good ways of saying: Thanks, but no thanks.  

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Susan Tepper is the author of four published books of fiction and a chapbook of poetry.  Her recent book The Merrill Diaries (Pure Slush Books, July, 2013) is a novel in stories about a young woman’s adventures in life and love on two continents. Tepper is a contributing editor at Flash Fiction Chronicles where she interviews authors about their books and lives on UNCOV/rd.  She also curates the reading series FIZZ at KGB Bar in NYC  www.susantepper.com

 

by Carly Berg

Invitation into your inner world is an honor. Reserve it for those who deserve it.

 Who would have thought writing required more forethought about handling people than anything else you decided to do?  It can certainly cause friction, for such a solitary, quiet, and low-cost activity. Those of us who have gone before, with our big faces hanging out unawares, can attest to that. Here are some tips to bring your writing habit out in the open smoothly.

 The Nearest and Dearest

The practical considerations count with those who share your space and obligations. Since you have responsibilities together, such as a house or children, you may want to come up with a writing schedule and get your spouse’s blessing.

If you’re like me, people talking, walking into the room, television noise, all yank me out of my writing trance. It’s as jarring as if they had jerked me from my sleep. I hate it. Non-writers do not understand this unless they’re told.  More than once. Tell them. Make a deal. Craft a “please do not disturb” sign to hang on the door when you’re writing.

 Friends and Relatives

Family and friends are easier because your lives don’t overlap as with those in your household. Emotionally, they can still provide a boost or pack a wallop, though. How much should you reveal?

Most of us have a “sharing” regret tale. Our stories are our creations. We’re sensitive about them. Having them rebuffed or ignored hurts.

Some people love us to death and understand writing means a lot to us. Yet, it’s not their thing. That’s okay, right? That’s why we’ll join a forum or group and get to know other writers.

 And certain people aren’t to be trusted with your writing or your feelings, even if their title is “relative” or “friend.”

Remember, you can always take the cat out of the bag, but you can’t put it back in.

Consider letting people in step by step. Drop a hint, or ask the other person if they want to read something you’ve written. Phrase it in a light way that leaves them an easy out. If they’re interested, show them one short story, chapter, or poem. A sample, not everything.

Do not reveal your pen name if you use one. After all, how will you feel if you expose all, and they: (1) never mention it again, (2) say something like “I didn’t really see the point,” or “Are you all right?,” (3) make a few copies and hand them out without your permission?

 In offering only a small portion, you have taken only a small risk.

Closely related to how much you share is what you share. Some non-writers do not realize that you and your main character are not the same person. Or, they may inaccurately read themselves into your story as well. It doesn’t hurt to keep this in mind when you consider which piece to let them read.

You may get that rare find, an interested, supportive, non-writer friend. Woohoo for you!

If you’re like most of us and have already done this wrong, at least you know who not to trust again. We go on.

 Everybody Else…

When I worked with children in foster care, one of the things we did was help them formulate a “cover story.” This isn’t a “lie,” as the term often means elsewhere. It’s a blanket of surface-only answers, to preserve the child’s dignity. Who do you live with? Mrs. Jones. Oh really? Is she your aunt? No. She’s just Mrs. Jones. Where are your parents? They can’t take care of me right now. Oh, dear. Are they sick? They just can’t take care of me right now, so I’m with Mrs. Jones. Note the polite repetition of nonspecific answers to those with no need to know. This shields the child against having personal details trotted out before the general public.

Many writers could also use cover stories. In our society (or maybe every society, what do I know?) we understand paid employment. We understand hobbies.

We don’t have as solid a grasp of that other thing. The writer may be insulted to hear their writing labeled a (mere) “hobby.” And, the writing may or may not bring in money.

So, we can name it a “calling.” But then, many non-writers still believe such a “calling” fits somewhere between a “hobby” and a “career.” The writer, in sharp contrast, may value writing above both hobby and career. It causes trouble.

If you tell people you write, they often promptly say the wrong thing. It goes like this:

 NWA (Non-Writing Acquaintance): So, I hear you write.

You: Uh-huh.

NWA: What do you write?

You: Oh, different things. Stories. And I’m working on a novel.

NWA: So then, you want to be a writer.

You: Um, no, but I—

NWA: Do you get paid for your stories?

You: Um, mostly not. But I—

NWA: Well, you just keep at it and someday maybe you’ll be a writer.

You: —–

NWA: Now I’ll tell ya what ya oughta write. How I met my husband. Now, there’s a best seller. I’d write it myself, but I’m too busy with my important business.

NWA wants to know where the product (published work) is, where the pay is. You might have studied the craft for years. Yet, she believes not having the time is all that prevents her from being published. Talent and skill aren’t mentioned.

To you, publication and pay may well be the by-products rather than the goal. NWA has missed it entirely.

Thus, conversations with non-writers can bruise the writer. My suggestion: Don’t engage. They don’t get it, and you don’t have to account for yourself on demand.

How about this instead:

 NWA: So, I hear you write.

You: Mmm, a little. That’s a pretty bracelet.

NWA: What do you write?

You: Oh, I don’t talk about it much. Is that bracelet onyx?

NWA: So then, are you published?

You: I don’t really talk about my writing.

NWA: Why not?

You: Meh, I just don’t. Didn’t you just get a new job?

You’ve remained polite, but in spite of her persistence, all she’s gotten is cover story. The trick, I think, is to think it through ahead of time so you‘re not caught off guard.

I’ve learned to involve people in my writing according to their position with me. I owe the most to those in my immediate household. Friends and relatives are considered individually, based on their interest and my trust. Acquaintances are generally kept at a distance. Invitation into your inner world is an honor. Reserve it for those who deserve it.

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Carly Berg‘s work has been accepted by publications beginning with every letter of the alphabet except for “K,” the absence of which keeps her up at night. “The Care and Feeding of Non-Writers” is from her book in progress, The 100 Credits Club. She can be found here.

 

by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

“I write.” Not “I’m a writer.”

Silly semantics?  I don’t think so.  I love writing, I’m incredibly happy I write. I’d be miserable if my brain dried up--but what I do is write, what I am is me.

I know, you don’t hear anyone say “I do medicine” or “I provide legal services.”  And certainly, now that I’ve had enough stories published, I probably won’t be accused of puffery if I introduce myself as an author.

But what comes out of my mouth naturally, without thinking about it, is “I write.”
I said that to a writer I ran into recently when she asked what I did.  She asked what I wrote, and I told her. “You should try novels,” she said, as one does to a child who really should leave those training wheels behind. Clearly she didn’t think I had the right credentials for her club.

Whatever you write, don’t accept that from anyone. One kind of creativity isn’t better than another–just different. Don’t let anyone slap labels on your work, or on you–and don’t do it to yourself. You might think you’re one kind of writer–and then something strange and unexpected falls out of your head one day, and you realize there’s a lot more in there than you knew.  Or even wanted to know.

The joy of writing is doing anything you want to on the page. The joy of living is finding out how much there is to you. Keep away from those labels–and enjoy all that nice new space around you.

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Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable–the best of all possible worlds. (Less miraculous fruit of her labors has appeared on Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Online and Perihelion SF Magazine.)

By Rose Byrne      

This is a reprint of a blog post, courtesy of Random Leaves Writers.

When I started out on my writing journey, I gave a story I wrote to a fellow writer for his opinion.  He gave me plenty of encouragement and advice.  He also made a statement I’ve never forgotten.

“You have tenacity, you’ll need it in this game,” he said.

“Is that a good thing?” I asked jokingly, not really sure what he meant.   He just nodded and smiled — you know, the kind of smile that comes from experience.

I went home and looked it up. According to the dictionary “tenacious” means – not readily relinquishing something, keeping a firm hold, persisting in existence or in a course of action.  

‘Well what’s that have to do with writing?’ I thought.

Years later, I’ve learned what he meant. Writing, rewriting, rewriting, rejections and disappointments, rewriting and more rewriting.  Hours looking for just the right word or sentence.   Sleepless nights trying to figure out what a character you’ve created should do, then being driven half demented when they won’t cooperate.  Spending weeks, months, and dare I say it, sometimes years getting a piece of work the way you want it.  Finally when you’re ready to let it go and it’s gone, you start having flashbacks thinking ‘I should have said this instead of that,’ or ‘I should have given the story a different twist.’  After the panic leaves, the despair sets in, until finally you accept it’s gone and if it’s not right, you start all over again.

No matter how many times I said, “That’s it. I’m giving up this writing malarkey,” something always draws me back in.  Out of nowhere an idea pops into my head or I hear an interesting story, overhear a few words, see an amusing ad on television, or maybe read something inspirational.  Then I can’t wait to sit down and create my story world and invent new characters, putting my own twist on whatever sparked off the idea.  I get lost in my own little writing world the way I get lost in a good book or film.

There’s nothing better than giving someone else your piece to read and they get what you’re saying or it brings a smile to their face. When you’re lucky enough to get something in print or on television or radio you forget all about the hard slog you put in to get it there.  All you feel is a sense of achievement.

Ironically, I wrote this blog, went to post it and lost the whole thing. Then the next day I rewrote it, went to post it and yeah, you guessed it, lost it again! This is my third attempt to get it posted and if I lose it again, I will remember my wise old writer friend’s words about tenacity.

So to all my fellow writers, no matter what your genre is, I say to you, never give up.  Who knows where your writing will take you?  One thing’s for sure, you’ll never be bored,you’ll  go to places you wouldn’t normally be, meet a lot of interesting people and make some very good friends along the way.

I think it’s worth it, don’t you?

_________________

Rose Byrne says,  “My love of reading Enid Blyton stories when I was a child sparked off the ambition in me to write. However, a long time passed before I actually began! I started writing ten years ago. I love creating new characters and particularly like flash fiction. I had a radio play produced, some short stories published in anthologies and on virtualwriter.net website. I have had various articles published in newspapers and interviews I wrote published on Film Ireland Website. I would love to break into television writing and have a collection of short stories published. I am a member of a group of five writers. We have a website www.randomleaveswritersblog.simplesite.com where we blog and post some of our work.”

By Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Wrote the best story ever, and sent it out.  Got rejected.  Sent it out again.  Got rejected.

Brooded for a little while.  Reread it.  Tightened it up, sent it out, and waited patiently.

Three months later–an email I will eventually bronze (as soon as I get that mantelpiece!):  “Your story was close to acceptance, but…”

They wanted a rewrite.

Joy and hope slowly congealed into terror and despair.

I’d do anything for those wonderful people who liked my story, but didn’t they understand I’d already put everything I had, or ever would have, into it?  There was nothing left in me.  I wasn’t claiming the story was perfect.  I just hadn’t a hope in hell of writing any more of it.

A few grim sad hopeless hours later, I sat down, reread the story, got into the mood and feel and rhythm of it, and somehow the right words came (I don’t know from where), and I submitted the revision, and a few more months later, that even more miraculous email:  “Congratulations on your story’s acceptance…”

Eventually, the terror of a rewrite request started to become a little less awful.

So much so that I had one of those “I, the Writer, Know More than You, the Editors Do, and My Story is Perfect” moments.

A few hours’ sleep and I was cured of that.  Sent a panicked apologetic email, followed not long after by the rewrite.

Are editors always right?  No–but you’d better be really, really sure of your story, and your gifts, and your judgment, before you try to persuade them that you are.

But what if you guys just don’t belong together?

Are editors always right?  No–but you’d better be really, really sure of your story, and your gifts, and your judgment,

before you try to persuade them that you are.

I was hungering to get a story accepted on a particular site.  They’d already rejected a few stories, with great courtesy and useful feedback, and I wanted that notch on my belt.

Finally one of my stories made it all the way to the final round, and they invited me to submit a rewrite.  We had some long email correspondence where I defended my story to the utmost and they explained why it wasn’t yet working for them, and finally I sat down and rewrote it, and they loved the rewrite and accepted it.  And throughout the whole process, they showed exceptional patience and kindness.

And when the story finally appeared, I was miserable.  Every word was mine, nobody put a hand on my precious child but me–but I’d changed the feel of the story to something that just didn’t sound right.  It was a sweeter, gentler story.

It was just what they wanted.

But when I claim it as a writing credit, I always have to say, “…but it’s not the voice I want you to judge me by”.

Rewrites are good things.  They are often essential things.  But make sure you are addressing a flaw or deficit in your story, and not just trying to accommodate your work to someone else’s taste.

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Sarah Crysl Akhtar’s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable–the best of all possible worlds.

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