Zen and the Art of Rejection

Posted by William Hess, GD reader for 3.2

I am, like many other writers, more intimate with rejection than I am with my own family. I know rejection’s cold sting, its metallic tang, its false adrenaline rush in the moments before reading the slip. Each time my writing is rejected, I recognize these familiar feelings. My family member’s birthdays? Those I fumble.

As a species, we loath rejection—whether at the bar by a potential pseudo-lover or on the job market. But being told that your writing isn’t good enough, or “isn’t right for this issue” hurts so much more than, say, watching your date sneakily slink out the door. Writerly rejection is that much worse because it feels as if it is you—your self—that is being rejected. You work and sweat and bleed and hope, and in the end, it still isn’t enough. Blame for other rejections might be placed on any number of facets, all tangential to you. In matters of literary rejection I, for one, seek solace in my mother’s wisdom: sometimes your best just isn’t good enough. A comparatively jagged pill to swallow than, say, “A+ for effort!”

I can’t yet speak for why something is rejected from Gandy Dancer as this is my first semester working with the magazine, but as a writer I know what it’s like to be rejected by Gandy Dancer. It hurts, just as much as any other publication—maybe more because the rejection was sent by people I know, people who sit across from me in other classes. When I got the e-mail rejection, I imagined that the spot I so desperately jockeyed for was given to someone I knew, someone whose writing I might not even think is as good as mine. In the heat of rejection, it’s hard to be a fair judge—and really, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to keep sending out your writing.

I have developed an almost fetishistic obsession with my rejections. The masochistic thrill of filing away the rejection slips in an ever-growing binder reminds me of my literary failures, but one day, after my future successes, this binder will make one hell of a buckshot target. This may just be wishful thinking, but the implications of accepting rejection as defeat are far too grim. My sagely advice is thus: Remember that in the coming months, more rejections will be sent than acceptance—if you’re one of the many, use that despair like kerosene for the fires of writing: let it burn slow.

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