• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
  • Archives

I Felt He Found My Letters Then Read Each One Out Loud



I wish I had become a literary agent in the sixth grade, then I would have been better prepared to face all the romantic rejection the world dished out. When I first became an agent, every rejection letter from an editor was an assault on my senses. I literally felt like my kids were not getting into college. Like we were going to wander the earth in an apron or too many bobby pins. Rejection is useful, nasty, necessary, unhelpful, instructive, demoralizing, but ultimately a test of the emergency broadcasting system. It is a high pitched sound that you must tune out lest it drive you crazy. A smaller voice, a tea bag, the way your fingers float about the keys. Stay right where you are. Don’t stop writing whatever you do.

How do you keep going in the face of the world’s indifference and your own shit?


28 Responses

  1. “How do you keep going in the face of the world’s indifference and your own shit?”

    I’m indifferent to the world’s indifference — I would be at least a little alarmed were the world or I otherwise — and my own shit is my shit and I own it.

  2. I take rejection well and just keep going. I think it’s because I was taught from a young age that I’m worthwhile. I know writers who take criticism personally and go into a funk because of the tiniest cavil. That has to be hard. Best not to define yourself by your writing or what others think.

  3. The entire world is indifferent? I thought it was just the people in my life. Oh well, it’s not about them. I wouldn’t change a thing.

  4. I got stuck, actually.
    Last summer I courageously submitted my first manuscript – however at the same time showing the exposé to an author-friend of mine. „This is rubbish“, he wrote back and gave me advice and the evaluation he got for his own exposé from a renowned author to learn doing it better.
    I never touched the exposée nor the manuscripts of my planned series again since then.
    Apart from the e-mail confirming receipt of the submission, I never heard from the publisher and never called to ask, since the email asked me not to.
    I‘m so insecure about what I do and whether I do it properly, that I chose to not do anything at all – and it drives me nuts …

    • That is the worst fucking advice in the world. He might have well punched you in the face. Just because people can write doesn’t mean they can give feedback. What he was saying was “that isn’t like my fancy fancy award winning whatever.” Find a reader who can support you, point out what is working as well as what is not. Do not give up just because one person vented his spleen on our work. One publisher rejection is achingly normal. Keep going!

      • You did not submit to an “author-friend” you submitted to an insensitive jerk. Fuck him, move on and don’t do the same to writers sending you their work because of your success.

        • Amen.

        • thx for your encouraging words.
          however, I have to rectify the fact, that I submitted to a publisher AND at the same time showed this submission to my author-friend. He therefore told me, what he thought – quite bluntly, but honestly – and he also offered advice.
          The publisher however never sent me an answer apart from the mail confirming receipt. That’s common with the publishing world here, but I guess, this hurt me more than my friends harsh words.
          and still I‘m wrestling with myself to sit down again and go back to work to finish. all these comments helped me to at least take the story out of the drawer again. thank you all.

          • I hear you about the rejection. It’s hard. But your writing is bigger than two rejections, no matter who they come from.

            This whole blog and its commenters is an excellent example of the bitter pig-headedness of writers who keep trying and keep supporting each other through our mass of rejections and self-doubt and occasional successes. Keep writing, and keep showing up. Don’t let the bastards get you down.

      • Double amen.

  5. Thanks, Betsy. Sixth grade may well have been a template for everything to come. As for your question, I do appreciate hearing from the others on the matter. I find that when a piece needs to be written, it takes over. The in-between is the crushing part. Lately, the only antidotes I know are cat videos, the occasional pastry and loved ones (a bit less reliable than the first two, however).

  6. And here I thought we learned everything in Kindergarten. You know, this is one of the most beautiful posts. Your choice of words (apron, bobby pins, tea bags, EBS system analogy, etc. etc.) Beautiful yet useful. Win/win.

    How do you keep going in the face of the world’s indifference and your own shit?

    My answer comes from work that is in the public realm and the seeming “no one gives a shit” feeling as I look at Bookscan. Sigh.

    It’s hope for me. Never ending abounding hope. I hope my shit gets better. I hope to one day blow the socks off professional reviewers, librarians, and booksellers. I am not literary enough to blow the socks off everyone in the publishing industry, as in I’m not an Ann Patchett, Lucy Grealy, Virginia Woolf, or Donna Tart, but, like Tetman says, I own my shit.

    Also, I heard this once from my agent, “Your rejection is my rejection.”

    I’ve never forgotten it.

  7. I can’t stop now, I’ve invested too much of my life in this shit. And by god I’m going to finish this freaking book.

  8. There actually is only one thing worse than rejection: SILENCE. And I mean silence on requested manuscripts. There must be something about this current one that invokes silence. Maybe they don’t know what to say. How do I keep going? By accepting the small press offer from my publisher! It’ll be published in the fall or early next year…finally!

  9. To plod on is a far better fate for me than accepting the opinion of Those Others. Except in the realm of love: after I was informed by the man I thought was my soulmate that I was “no one he would consider for a marriage proposal”, I swept the crumbs of my broken heart into a tightly locked box and accepted a lifestyle involving gardening, marginally trained dogs, good friends and more time to write. While I do occasionally miss the swoon from a passionate kiss, I am hoping a book contract (in some near future) will be a nice substitute.

  10. How do I keep going? By being mostly indifferent to the world’s shit, by containing any sense of my own importance, by constructively not giving a damn.

    There’s also that desire to enjoy, have fun, laugh. I do those things more often than that other stuff. Way more.

    We’ve rescued a dog and a boat recently, and the dog is easier. The boat had trees growing in it, but it’s doing much better, and will launch soon. That stuff trumps angst every time.

  11. Good shit, bad shit it’s mine. I do value my opinion (good or bad) even if it’s skewed by my unrelenting need to be read. Hate it, like it or leave it, it’s up to you.
    Indifference is a self-centered shrug of dismissal.
    Dismiss me?
    How dare you.
    I have a voice and so do all of you.
    SHOUT !
    Slinking off to make my bed and scream into my pillow.

  12. I fought hard to write and to live a creative life. I write new stuff and submit it and I don’t overthink this brutal industry.

  13. During a moment of supreme passion, these grunted words: wabba wabba splish splish unhga ungha heH! followed by a mighty sigh and a bit of a shimmer and shake. Whenever I’m at a loss, those words keep me going, the closest anyone has ever come to explaining life’s mysteries to me.

  14. Dear Bette, Your Lyric Cue Brought Forth The Memory Of Bill Murray On The REAL Saturday Night Live Singing It As Part Of His Lounge Singer Act!!! So My Loathing Of All Things Industry Is Tempered With Humor. For Poets, We Must Remember There Are More People Writing It Than Reading It.~~~Having Just Lost My Beloved Friend & Mentor, Lucie Brock-Broido, I Remember That I Couldn’t Take Even A Master Poet’s Criticism As Gospel. That Said, She Was A Genius Editor As Well As A Genius Poet.~~~We Are Also Writing In A Free Country, & That Can’t Be Emphasized Enough. So Get With It, & Don’t Expect Too Much. If Your Poetry Pleases Your Close Colleagues & The People It Was Inspired By, That’s Your Prize In The Craft & Sullen Art. Sean Andrew Heaney. ****

  15. My current answer to rejection: My plan, this past summer, was to work on one story and get it polished and ready for rejection by Alaska Quarterly, One Story, and Glimmer Train, some of my favorite journals.
    That’s an inside joke for the Rejection Club, four writers who decided send out work at a fast clip and to keep score and compare notes, with the winner (loser) assigned to treat the rest of us to a bottle of wine in our favorite pub at the end of a year.
    I had traditionally sent out one story to one journal and waited for a response. Sometimes it was months in coming. Sometimes it never came. “If this happens, they are just not interested in your work” is the general wisdom. At this rate, months become years and the work waited patiently in my computer. My three writer friends followed more or less the same routine.
    But after Kim Liao’s article “Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections a Year” circulated on the Internet in June of 2016, we rethought our position. In addition to increasing our submissions, I said, “Let’s make it a competition. Who can get the most rejections fastest?”
    It was on my calendar to take a workshop with Lisa Romeo at the Writers’ Circle called Submission Strategy. Lisa’s spreadsheet was a revelation to me. I began to keep better records of what I sent, where I sent it, the date, the outcome—rejection, yes, but as Lisa said, garner any feedback you get.
    The four of us had a backlog of unpublished work. We’d met in a workshop where one of us was finishing a novel set in New York City and Italy; another was working on a crime novel; the third member’s novel was about an American family and how it changed over two generations; and I was bringing my chapters of a novella to workshop to be picked over for problems of consistency, tone, and point of view. In addition, we all had stories, essays, short-shorts, and other bits and pieces in reserve.
    We proceeded to build our attack. We met and exchanged literary journals, to improve our knowledge of what they published and what the editors liked. I came home with an armload of Ploughshares, which I had never read despite its reputation, and I passed out copies of Chattahoochee Review, where I’d been lucky in the past. I had a lot of back issues of One Story for the taking. I picked up copies of Gulf Coast, New Letters, and Bellingham Review.
    We also exchanged lists of journals looking for submissions or running contests. One member subscribes to Literistic, a good source. I subscribe to Practicing Writing, Erica Dreifus’s daily blog, for the Monday list, and her monthly newsletter The Practicing Writer. There’s Publishing . . . and other Forms of Insanity. And of course Poets & Writers is available to all of us, magazine or online, a great guide and vetted by P&W—no ripoffs there..
    We started our first round of submissions, and soon our emails were reading like this:
    I got two rejections in a week. I’m surging ahead!
    Do you know how many editors have “loved” this story but rejected it anyway?
    Five agents have decided not to represent my novel.
    I’m getting rejections from journals I don’t even remember submitting to!
    “Your submission was read with interest.” But WAS it?
    We sometimes got exactly the same standard rejection letter from different journals. And we discovered favorite tropes:
    “Although your story was not selected, it does not mean it was without merit.”
    And the current favorite:
    “We were blown away by the quality of this year’s contest submissions . . . “
    But we learned a lot. First, to take any word of encouragement as an invitation: “We liked your long story but there was no room for it in this issue.” Or, better, “Try us again.” A scribbled note in pencil on a standard rejection was to us fit for framing.
    We got better at matching our work to certain journals. We send out work in batches, not one solitary story bearing our hopes for publication. Our common effort has lessened the pain of rejection—has actually given us many laughs. We’re ready to start a new wave of stories flying in all direction, electronically and by snail mail.
    Early on, a friend said to Kim Liao, “Shoot for one hundred rejections in a year, because if you work that hard to get so many rejections, you’re sure to get a few acceptances too.”
    It’s going to work. It has already worked! A few days ago I received news that I had won the Faulkner-Wisdom Competition for The Novella. My writing friends will soon follow with their acceptances. And that bottle of wine is waiting.

  16. Oh, sweet sorrow, what beauty you hold to the fire. I keep going by knowing I still exist even if no one knows but me and my immediate loved ones. That makes four. The rejections stimulate an introspection that can’t be got with praise. It’s only ugly and painful at first glance but then it gets so lonely it’s just me and the g-o-d. I hate using that word but it’s a common one almost everyone recognizes. It makes the writing something more somehow. The quality of my life changes for the better, mostly. If this is a test, I’m fuckin’ killin’ it. I use rejection like cheap grad school. When the people who have the money say it’s good, I’ll believe it because my bank account will chorus. In short: the love of it – The idea, the work, the result. Even if I’m just crying over my own drama and laughing at my own jokes. Gotta love it.

  17. rejection is part of the writing life. that’s about it. after working in a lit mag for a brief time, i understand why some things are rejected–about to publish a similar story, avoiding trends, good vs. great writing, etc.etc.

    this is best case scenario. in worst case scenario there’s a lotta nepotism in publishing. and the level of gate keeping is astounding.

    there are many reasons why writing is rejected so i can’t react the same way to each rejection. that makes no sense!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: