44 Words


















by Guest Writer:
Todd Glasscock


I once read that Stephen King — or some other best seller — said he saved every rejection letter, a token of his persistence, some weird reverse psychology inlaid with the faith of “one day.” It seems, though, like an act of self-flagellation, a way to heap abuse upon oneself for writerly sins, a punishment for even writing at all.

Last year, I received a forty-four word e-mail rejecting a short story, a favorite story of mine, one I had worked and reworked many times for about four years. Revised until sick of it. I had to send it out. The rejection prickled me more than most; it pinched a part of my psyche, twisting it like a comma.

No matter how hard you try to prepare for the crackling lash, rejection can welt the thickest of skins. Rejection makes forty-four benign words malignant. Instead of saying, in part, as it does, “Although we have not selected your work for publication, we do wish you the best of luck with it elsewhere” it expands, it spreads, it becomes “We receive enough of this drivel every day. Shut off your word processor you worthless hack and never write again.”

They pierced me, those forty-four words. I read the magazine, an online journal. I thought I carefully studied the stories, thought my story was just as quirky as the ones I read.

My first thought: the MFA conspiracy, an idea I had concocted once after asking agent Henry Dunow whether a submission gets taken more seriously when it’s from an MFA. It helps, he said. The degree suggests the writer is someone who takes writing seriously. To the editors of this journal, then, I really was a hack, lacking three letters behind my name, submitting stories a first semester MFA student would have been embarrassed to have submitted in workshop.

But what if those three letters didn’t matter? What if I really was a hack, only good enough at one time to write lifestyles stories for a small daily newspaper? Only good enough to freelance for small, local magazines.

Then I remembered a passage from John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist : “Nearly every beginning writer sooner or later asks . . . his creative writing teacher, or someone else he thinks might know, whether or not he really has what it takes to be a writer.”

Those forty-four words said, “You don’t have what it takes, man. Give up.” All I ever wanted to hear. Except not from this source.

The best answer to the question of whether a beginner has what it takes Gardner says is: “God only knows.” Agnostic that I am, those forty-four words made me crave a higher authority. Someone who might know, who might say “Give it up, you hack.”

At the same time, I wanted to clamp my ears, run around screaming nyah! nyah! nyah! until the voice fled, to persist, until my pile of rejection slips ran over, and accept my stripes until “one day.”

When asked in an interview if he had any advice for budding writers, Chuck Palahnuik said, “Persevere. . . .The biggest talent you can have is determination. Do you use the writing process as your ongoing excuse to keep exploring the world, meeting people and learning things? If you can do that, then the writing itself will be its own payoff and reward.”

This summer I received three rejections. A few more stripes. Still, I return to the process. Word to sentence. Sentence to paragraph. I crawl forward like an infant, the world and understanding ahead.



Todd Glasscock is a short story writer, journalist, editor and aspiring novelist. He has published several pieces as a freelance writer in a variety of magazines and newspapers and short fiction at Pindeldyboz.com. He was also the Lifestyles and Religion editor for the Temple Daily Telegram, Temple, Texas.

Explore Todd's website here.


Picture: No Entry by Otaillon

19 comments:

kathleenmaher said...

How I love reading that I'm not the only writer who's rejected as regularly as if rejection was a greeting: Hello, No thanks, Good to see you, Can't sell this, Hot out or cold? Today's tough market...

Here's my question: How often do you think anyone reads your submission? Let's say you email and get it back in eight hours. Or it's returned in the return mail? And then what about those rejections you can't remember asking for in the first place. Someone apologetically turns down a story you sent out 2-1/2 years ago?

Helen Ginger said...

I used to save rejections. Even cataloged them by agent or agency and submission.

I don't do that anymore.

Writers get enough rejection and "beaten up" by those letters. At some point you have to stop doing it to yourself.

LISA HOLDREN said...

I save rejections for the accountant at tax time. If I haven't made much money, it offers me some kind of business cost deduction, or something... Yeah, writers write. Try being an actor. They look you over, as you stand there, and say "that's all. Next." Believe me, way worse than a form letter. Reading each other's blog posts is a boost forward even on the worst day. Good for you for putting this not-another-one piece of mail out there. "Hacks' move people in some parts of the world. Think of it that way!
www.peaceandlaughter.blogspot.com

Paul said...

I think I was guided by that platitude What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger into keeping all my rejections slips. That and the desire to one day wallpaper a room with them. I found it useful at times to revisit one or two -- those that provided more than 44 words -- to see if I agreed with their comments in hindsight. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn't, but, being stubborn, their very existence was enough to fire me up and carry on writing.

Stella said...

I guess you do have to be a bit crazy somewhere in order to continue writing without achieving bestselling-critically-acclaimed status. But don't worry - you're in good company.

Lucy said...

I feel so much better!!! I was beginning to think that I was suffering from some mental deficiency because I keep all of my rejections. I guess some would see it as some sort of self-punishment, but I don't. Early on, I refused to submit any writing. I was too worried about rejection. I was lucky enough to get a story published early and then came the long, long, long drought. I was ready to give up (trying to get published, not writing). But I love to prove people wrong and I guess that's why I still save those rejections. When something I've written is published, I like to look back at the rejections and smile at them.

zaid said...

Enouragement is not what I felt. More a feeling of sympathy for someone who felt the pain of rejection which is something that I think is a consequence of life. Patronising is not what I want to be but quite honestly we all need a little luck to get on in the writing world.

I think the real motivation is helplessness. One is inspired to write because there is a cathartic need that has to be satisfied aswell as the pleasure of having something to talk about with long suffering friends that humour you into believing that you have an ability to entertain.

44 words is a lot to receive in rejection. I would say well done. At least you got a reaction and if you forgive me for using the words that caused you pain but are meant sincerely, good luck and never stop writing! You never know and if you look at the millions of books out there few of which allow their authors to become smug writes on the book show who cares..........a bit of strut and fret an hour upon this stage with as much harmless pleasure as possible.

Zaid

Marc Paterson said...

Hi; I've read that thing about Stephen King too. The funny thing is I came to this site through a link from a rejection email. They were saying more or less the same kind of things about "good luck finding an agent..." and, "we receive literally hundreds of submissions..." I've just finished my first novel and I have been keeping the rejections. If I get anything more than a standard off-the-peg reply I take it as a step forward and try and glean what I can in the way of constructive criticism (if any). I am a fledgling, so I'll probably get sick of the word no after a time. Anyway, I'm glad I found you! It's nice to have a forum for like-minded people.

Mike French said...

Welcome to the magazine Marc - good luck mate and yes if you get more than a standard rejection letter it means something is working - plus you can quote it in future submissions - so and so said "Marc's writing was fresh,innovative and compelling" Just double check it isn't a standard response before using it though or you'll look a bit silly!

Marc Paterson said...

wow, I didn't expect a reply to my post so soon. I haven't got a blog or a website. Should I have one?

Mike French said...

Depends on what you want from it Marc - if you want to network on-line with other writers and feel less isolated, then a blog is a good way to have a home base to go out from. It allows others who are interested in what you say to check you out - be warned though it can be a time sink unless you are careful!

A web-site is okay, but probably more for a published author wanting to increase their profile on-line - although some have a blog attached to them.

Marc Paterson said...

Yes, that does worry me - the fact that it can take you away from the business of actually writing.

Mike French said...

Well if you are strict with yourself time wise and don't get sucked into sidetracks then you would be okay.

However if you were worried about that, you could always join a local writing group instead.

Marc Paterson said...

Thanks for chatting to me the other day, Mike. It was nice to feel welcomed so readily. I haven't got anything suitable to submit to your site at the moment but now that I've found you I'll see if I can produce something worthy of it.

Mike French said...

Okay Marc and no problem :-)

William Bedford said...

I have been publishing for over forty years, and rejections used to really depress me. What I've learnt over the years is that the same poem, story or feature can be rejected by one editor and taken by another, and even more encouraging, can be rejected by one editor of a magazine and then taken eventually by the same magazine when the editor changes. Things move on. You have to be as sensitive as a geiger counter and as hard as iron. And remember: editors often have their own requirements, and the reasons for rejection may have nothing to do with your submission.

Nancy Jasin Ensley said...

Having finally published a book about abuse, addiction, loss and foregiveness I felt I had finalized a chapter in my life I have been driven to complete. I wanted a memoir for my family, friends, and for anyone struggling with the "stuff" life throws at you. I have written hundreds of poems for friends, graduations, lovers, funerals and have had some published as well as clinical articles in magazines, but the romance with writing a novel has always been my passion. I have sent out copies of my book and a short story to several publishers with no takers. It is disheartening at first but I remember my literature professor telling me, "It is the joy of pursuing a dream that is the reward, not the contract or the money, just the excitement of the pursuit. I am working on a mystery, intrige novel and two others are in their virgin stages and it is a joy.

BronwenPhoenix said...

Didn't Stephen King famously like to paper his wall with rejection letters at one stage? Either way, love that guy. I think with writing, it's such a way that everyone *expects* to get a ton of rejection letters, because sadly, that's just the way the game is. And we're told that's the way the game is by just about every other writer we come across. It's learning to deal with that and overcome it and not let it get you down, that leads to our eventual success. Some of us achieve it faster than others. Or to a higher level. We just have to keep on pushing, am I right? It's a fragile business - not just in writing, but in many forms of career. We have high points and low points. Dealing with the low points is unfortunately just part of the overall slice of cake. Mmmm, cake. ~B

Puja S Borker said...

Knowing that there are many here who have been saving the rejection-mails has brought a smile on my face! I enjoyed reading every word in this blog and so relate to it. Though I do second Helen on the fact that piling up rejections has got to stop someday and I hope I do not wait until my first acceptance letter. Wow - did I just say that? Look how optimistic I have become after coming face to face with all those who aspire to write!