On rejection: “I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” — Sylvia Plath



“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” -- Sylvia Plath



Letter 1:

Dear Melissa,

My apologies for taking so long to get to your stories. It’s been a very busy few months. I found them compelling, but I’m sorry to say I didn’t have a strong enough response to pursue them for publication. Given the small number of titles we publish, I have to turn down a lot of good work. I encourage you to continue to send your work around.

I appreciate the chance to consider it and wish you luck finding a home for it.

Best,
XXXX

Letter 2:

Dear Melissa:

Thank you for giving me a chance to read these two pieces.  I enjoyed them but these days I am finding it just too hard to sell short story collections, even those with an interrelated theme.  I wish you much luck with this and if for some reason you don’t connect with a literary agent I will be happy to have a look at your future work somewhere down the line.

I wish you all the best,
XXXX

First, I want to mention that I submitted my manuscript to two literary contacts I met this past summer at Sewanee. I knew that I wasn’t ready for publication or a book contract–not even close–but I wanted to gain some experience, got lucky at the conference draw, and was able to snag three meetings with three wonderful folks: one, a university press editor; two, a prominent literary agency (one of their authors was Marguerite Duras!); and three, an upcoming and fantastic literary agent. The two letters above are from the university press editor and the prominent literary agency. I didn’t send my manuscript to the third agent because I wanted to build up my portfolio of stories and send it when I was really ready–I really adored her, and she was just great to talk to. The first two offered to read my work, so I obliged, and they were fantastic about it.

I don’t know if these two rejection letters are hot or not, but it made me feel okay (or more than okay) about my writing, especially during a pretty bad slump. For the past five months, I’ve received around 45 or so rejections for a story I really love–some higher tier rejections, lots of standard rejections, one asking to send more work as solicited, and another personal rejection with great feedback–and I gotta tell you, it’s hard. I know the rejections aren’t personal, and that’s what definitely gets me through the moments of flipping through my rejections, rereading my story, and believing in its shape and worth.

I will definitely keep on trucking. It’s the only thing I can do. Though articles like this (‘As much as I loved the writing, due to the subject matter, I’m not sure whether it will be something that can sell in our economic climate. The novel does not seem to fit into the genre of our current Asian authors and we do not know how to place it in the market‘) do depress me for the reality of it all, and the bare difficulty of the literary game in general. I’m definitely a pessimist, and have been so for all my life. And don’t even ask me about what I’m going to do post-MFA (I’m still researching, hoping to apply to different fellowships and residencies, looking into adjuncting in Norfolk, and still mourning a fallout I had with a prior mentor and another experience of uprooting my life because of the military). Things are compounded with a deployed husband, plans constantly changing and failing, and, as of right now, I am definitely sifting through a moment of depression.

I’m hoping this fog lifts sooner than I think it will.

It isn’t the rejections or the like getting me down, I think it’s the uncertainty of it all. Constant articles telling me of the dire economic climate and poverty line of young professionals from 21-34, colleagues with no educational debt due to family safety nets (which I don’t have, and shouldn’t be jealous of, but it definitely puts into perspective why I work so hard, and why it hurts when someone tells me I don’t), keep me from remaining hopeful in my work, in my love for writing and literature, and I do question myself, I have to: why am I doing this? why am I fighting?

Sometimes, I don’t have the words to answer myself. All I have is my gut. I wake up every morning and go to sleep every night filled with anxiety, but then I open a book, enter a world, and remind myself, yes, this is important. Reading, and writing, adds a layer to my life that nothing else can, like God or love. There are no real answers, no other clichés that differ from a basic grapple and need for meaning. I write because there are stories in my belly that haunt me and need to be told. I write because I am still trying to understand. I read because I feel alone sometimes, or most of the time, and reading reminds me all my emotions have been around for ages, and the concerns I have on death, truth, duplicities of self, on love–they’re important concerns, and concerns that need to be worked out, grappled with. I will always be someone who questions, who walks a fine line, who cannot help but worry and create action. At times I am narcissistic, I am too concerned with the self, and to be honest, it’s actually most of the time.

But, I go back to Roxane Gay and remember what she said on one’s own writing:

Too many writers disparage their own work, as if through self-deprecation they will find communal affirmation. If you don’t believe in your own writing, if you don’t think you’re producing writing worth reading, why are you publishing? It’s an awkward contradiction to say, “Read this thing I wrote; it’s not that great.” At some point, you have to have faith in what you’ve written. You have to believe your writing belongs out in the world. We are all small points of light within the constellation that is the writing world, but we do better when we shine brightly.

I am trying. I am struggling. I wake up every morning, tear myself from the cradle of sleep, and look into the mirror, questioning the woman who stands before me. I criticize her. I deconstruct her motives, her intentions. And then I move to the grand window that spreads across the whole wall of the living room, and I let the sun douse me in light. I drink tea, I read a book, I think, I Facebook and share articles that concern me, that remind me of the world breathing and living outside, struggling, and I get back to my white desk with doodles of Anime girls on it–girls I’ve drawn out of boredom–and then I write. I try to create a world that reflects, deeply reflects my own. I remind myself that my voice has been silenced for too long. That the stories I write are exhumed from the embodiment of my family’s tragic past. I trust myself, I trust my pen, my thoughts, my obsessive compulsive thoughts, and keep writing. I do the work. I send it out. I get the rejections. And I keep on going, because, like Mama Plath says, “They show me I try.”

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2 thoughts on “On rejection: “I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” — Sylvia Plath

  1. I relate to so much of what you write that I feel like you speak for me (not to mention countless others). I know firsthand that the journey is difficult, and in the literary world, your successes FAAARRRRRR exceed mine, but you are an inspiration to fellow Filipino writers like myself, so I urge you to keep going at all costs. You’ve been given a gift that allows you to weave your pain into gold. You have no idea how many people you can help with that gold, not just now, but for generations to come.

    1. Dear Josef: I’m so sorry for the delayed response, but I wanted to thank you, sincerely, for your comment. It means so much that someone out there is reading my blog post, especially the ones about rejection! Because it’s super hard. My successes don’t exceed yours at all! We should keep in touch, and promise me you’ll keep trucking too. Writing is so important, and it’s just an honor to hear from a stranger these great thoughts and vibes. ~m

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