Heckled By ParrotsBlue Sky WritingRebecca K. O'Connor

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Bonfire of the Rejections

After duking it out through a bout of pneumonia and finishing a parrot training manuscript, my falconry has fallen to the wayside. Now that I have my free time back, I’m ready to get back in the field, get back to some less technical writing and look back on this year. It’s about time to celebrate the successes, but first I need to burn some baggage.

For twenty years now I have burned all of my rejection slips once a year. Most of my writer friends are horrified by this. Our rejection slips are badges of honor! We are supposed to plaster our office walls with them.

Someday, when we are famous, we are supposed to frighten off wannabe writers with the wave of the despair we road in on. We are supposed to make sweeping soul crushing statements like, “Come back and talk to me when you have 500 rejections. At least one more than I have…” Then we can pour a drink, dim the lights and shoo away our protégé with a curt, “I want to be alone” so we can fill the bathtub with rejection slips and bathe in them. Or something like that. I don’t know. I never really got the “hold on to your pain” philosophy of writing.

The thing is, rejection hurts and hurtful memories are meant to fade. I know this from writing memoir and dredging up those moments of my life that would like to stay buried. It HURTS. Revisiting them is only cathartic if you can find meaning in them and let them go. Otherwise you are just worrying a wound, a dog with a hotspot she can’t stop licking. Otherwise you are just a stripper with Daddy issues, er, I mean, a writer with a grudge, you know what I mean. Nobody became a writer with more depth because they were rejected. They became a better writer because they believed they could be a better writer and they KEPT WRITING.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in getting angry. Life is not fair and it deserves the occasional screaming, ranting tantrum. It’s just that I believe in getting angry and then letting go. So every year on what has eventually become a Solstice bonfire, I go through my rejections one by one and burn them. I find this is even better with a friend. It usually goes something like this:

Rebecca: “I really thought that Dark Cow Lowing with love this piece because it has more cowbell than any other piece I’ve read in that literary magazine. Screw you, Dark Cow Lowing.” Whoosh. Flaming rejection.

Friend: You know… that piece you wrote about that epiphany you had… what was it, “Low and Behold”? That would be perfect for DCL.

R: You think so? Awesome. Thank you! I’ll send it in January!

F: This rejection is from Whispering Christopher Box you know that little online zine that what’s his name from our MFA started? I thought he would want it… I don’t know. I mean, look at this. It doesn’t even have my name on it.

R: I TOTALLY understand. You thought you were helping him out by giving him a piece you hadn’t placed and then when you got rejected not only were you hurt, but you were embarrassed that you thought it was a ringer. That happened to me with what’s her name’s Alula Wind. That journal lasted like one issue. Did you SEE the pieces she chose. Ugh. Here’s that rejection. Let’s burn these together.

F: Hey, is it alright if I burn this “thank you for your interest, we will keep you on file for other adjunct professor positions” letter?

R: Hell ya! Burn, baby, burn!

You get the picture. There is always laughter and sometimes there are tears. It isn’t always easy to let go of rejection. That first rejection for the LIFT manuscript from a big time editor at a big six publisher — the one my erstwhile agent was certain was a cinch said,

“Only falconers will find this of interest.”

Burning that once wasn’t enough for me. The last couple of years I have written that out by hand and burned it again for good measure. This year… I don’t think I need to. I do though, have a few “would you be mine, would you be mine, won’t you be my agent” responses to burn.

I don’t need reminders to bring up the pain. It’s hard enough to let the really cruel twists in life go. Really, most of these rejections aren’t even personal. I don’t need to prove to myself or anyone else that the world has rejected me or that I have done my work. In fact, if someday I’m an “overnight” success. I’ll just be grateful. The road I slogged to get there won’t be nearly as important as the person I will be because of the journey.

I do keep a spreadsheet with my submissions. I note the response and if there was anything personal and encouraging in it. I check back during the year to see if I have sent out as many submissions as I did the year before. I measure my goals by my effort, not my rejections. And if someday how many times I was rejected and how many years I shopped a single piece is important, someone can pull up the spreadsheet and crunch the numbers. Because that’s all they are. Numbers. And me, I’m a flesh and blood writer with a soul. And so are you.

You are Coordially Invited:
Annual Bonfire of the Rejections
Winter Solstice
December 22, 2011
8PM Pacific Coast Time

Receptacle of burning of your choosing. Bring your own pain and flames.

One Comment

  1. joe says:

    Rebecca, we all have the rejections they just come in different form. I get them from proposals I write that don’t get funded only to see them funded later to a different consultant or have the idea taken by the client and proposed as THEIR idea. I have a drawer full of envelopes with the idea and the date so they can be opened later with the “I told you so” smirk on my face. Burn away tonight for all of us.