by Guest Writer:
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
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,
Explore Todd's website here.