• Running From Rejection

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in WBN News & Events     Comments No comments

    As I talked about on Monday and Tuesday, the submission process has changed quite a bit in the past couple of years. Very few publications accept hard copy submissions anymore, and even fewer send rejection slips through the mail. All this talk (“talk?” Let’s face it; internal monologue barfed into a series of blog posts) about rejection slips has reminded me about a piece from my archives, which I wrote shortly after moving to Florida from Boston; so sometime around June/July of the year 1 P.W.B.N. (Pre-WBN). It’s a silly, now-mostly obsolete little essay which was originally posted on The Review Review, but has since disappeared. I’ve made a minor edit or two where necessary.


    Running From Rejection

    We’re all well-versed in how to obtain rejection slips—submit story, attach SASE, wait anywhere between one and infinity months. Sometimes they feel like email auto-responders, sent the moment a magazine receives your work. Other times it seems like they’ll never come … days, weeks, months pass, you hit the one-year mark, and you’re certain that the editors are giving your piece heavy consideration, championing it in meetings, paving its way for a Pushcart Prize or inclusion in Best American. Then your slip comes, bearing no personalized marks whatsoever, and you realize that you were just fooling yourself, that the journal probably just has one mother of a slush pile, and that the mother likely gave birth to a gaggle of baby slush piles, and in one of these your manuscript has been buried for the past 12+ months, gasping for air, desperate for its turn to suckle at the teat of rejection.

    Well, I thought I had found a way to avoid rejection slips for the rest of my writing career. No more would I suckle. And I was fully prepared to share my discovery with the rest of you.

    I know what you’re thinking: that my “discovery” would be something like, “Stop writing. Never again send off a story, and rejection won’t have cause to find you.” Or “Keep writing, but stop filling your prose with typos, misspellings, and adverbs like ‘sexily’.”

    Wrong. With my plan, I could still submit stories, I could still fill them with errors, and I could still use dialogue tags like “Billy exclaimed haltingly” or “Georgette cooed provocatively.”

    The answer was simple—go on the lam. Become a fugitive from rejection. Pack up and move, and never stop moving. Never set down roots, and rejection won’t be able to track you down.

    Back in February I sent out a round of submissions. Now it’s July, and I’m smack in the middle of prime rejection season. Nearly a month ago, though, I left Boston under cover of predawn and moved to a small Florida town. Magazines that have my manuscripts no longer have my contact information—my address changed, my phone number changed, and God bless ’em, Comcast cut off my email account. The USPS promised to forward my snail mail, but three weeks into my stay here I had not received a single letter, bill, jury summons … or rejection slip.

    I knew those slips were out there, trying to track me down. When the postman came to our door asking for me, I’d disguise myself as a deliveryman/woman. I’d don wigs and bury my face in newspapers. I’d cover myself in palm fronds and creep across the backyard. Stealthily.

    In the movie Bottle Rocket, Dignan says, “On the run from Johnny Law … ain’t no trip to Cleveland.” Well, I was on the run from Johnny Rejection, and made a vow to keep running. Forever, if I had to—even if that running took me to the most hideous of places. Like Cleveland.

    I know what you’re thinking (I always know what you’re thinking): “What if they wanted your piece? What if, instead of mailing rejection slips, they were trying to email you acceptance letters, or call you with the good news?” Stop it. Don’t be so gross and optimistic. Assume failure and you’ll never be disappointed.

    But then I realized a few things, important things. First of all, they weren’t palm fronds—they were poison oak. My skin itched from the oak, my scalp itched from the wigs, and people kept asking me to bring them shit. And something was missing from my life. Something essential, something intrinsic to who I am as a writer.

    I missed the suckling.

    A couple days ago my girlfriend came home with the mail. “Honey,” she said. “You have a rejection letter here!” Two of them, in fact. And the following day, I got another.

    Rejection nourishes me. It fires me up and grounds me all at the same time. It makes me strive to improve myself. It makes me a better writer. And I wanted it back.

    For the first time in my new house, I felt at home.


    Discussion question: Does rejection spur you on to do better, or does it make you go fetal? A bit of both? Let us know below.


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