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Living with literary rejection

by Carol Little

The amount of rejection a writer receives is astronomical. We are bombarded with rejection. It’s like being in high school for the rest of your life. Any day of the week, you can walk to the post office and get a letter telling you that your work isn’t good enough. There are days where the grail of letters, the acceptance letter, arrives, but realistically, for every acceptance I receive, I get at least, really at least, twenty rejections for pieces that I’d submitted eagerly with bright eyes and big dreams.

The consistent rejection coupled with the fluctuating, unreliable salary would be enough to send the most confident individual into knee-hugging depressive fits. Now—try giving that job to the shyest person you know, the insecure, clinically introverted kid … it’s a bumpy ride. And, in essence, no matter what the letter says, it always reads to me like a really big, highlighted in gold, might as well be a Hallmark singing card, “F.U. kid, we think your poem sucks.”

 And, this is my day job!

I have a poet friend who for years would stick his rejection letters on his office walls. He has since switched (thank god!) to posting acceptance letters, and all four walls are covered with them—they actually overlap one another. So, when he sits at his desk, he is surrounded by praise—a very rare thing for a writer.

I’ve found that for me, the healthiest way to deal with rejection is to ignore it. Seriously. I read the letter (usually), shout a string of obscenities to the publisher (who obviously doesn’t know anything about anything), shake my fist at the sky a few times, rant to my friends about how that publication will likely go out of business anyway, then toss the letter over my shoulder and find another editor to flog the piece to. Healthy, no? Trust me, I have a degree in psychology, it’s a mentally sound way to deal with such issues in life.

How do I continue writing in the wake of this? Stubborn, unwavering, determined perseverance. Sure, I could pursue another career, say one that pays me, but I wouldn’t be happy, and really what’s the point of life if not to do what’s fulfilling. That may sound selfish, but my kids are clothed, fed (honest, they’ve eaten) and happy, and I believe that I set a good example for them by living an honest life in which I actively pursue and support the things that are important to me.

I keep the positive words I glean along the way. In Ontario last spring, after a solo poetry reading, a burly 6-foot-2 farmer, at his first poetry reading, marched up to the organizer, grasped the scruff of my friend’s shirt firmly in his hands, lifted him off the ground and proclaimed adamantly, “When that girl’s poetry book is published, I need a copy!”  I will hold on to that moment for life.

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