Rejection as Redirection
Last spring I received an email from a website I'd contributed to in the past. The editors were seeking submissions for a summer issue and the topic was coupling or uncoupling (hat tip to Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin) at midlife.
Typically, for better or worse, I write whatever moves me. In other words, I don't usually respond well to call-outs or writing prompts. But I'd had an idea in my head for a few months that sort of fit the bill. I'd put off writing it for no other reason than sheer laziness. When I read this email, it felt like the universe prodding me to just write it already. So, I drafted, revised, mulled, polished, and eventually sent off the piece.
While I wasn't expecting a quick response, I was expecting a response—especially when it got to be a month past the submission deadline. Still, I heard nothing. I waited a month and followed up with a polite, "Just checking to see when you'll make a decision for this upcoming issue..." Nothing.
I waited another month and by this time it was mid-to-late-summer—even the mosquitoes and fireflies were over it—so I thought, "Surely this summer issue must be dropping soon." As such, I felt I deserved a "yay" or a "nay." I decided I'd send one more email, a quick, "Hi! Just wondering if you're interested in including this piece in your upcoming issue? If not, I'd appreciate it if you could let me know as I'd like to submit it elsewhere. Thanks!"
Again, nothing. Days shy of September, I received a form rejection. Now no one likes to have their work declined, but sometimes in the writing world you're just grateful to receive a response. (Sad but true.) Plus, I'd given up hope of hearing back at all.
But that didn't mean I'd given up on the piece. If I've made something, I don't want to see it go to waste. (Don't get me started on the rom-com that sits unloved in my iCloud.) I'm the same way with food. Whether it's two leftover quesadilla triangles or a half-inch of Thousand Island dressing, I stare into my refrigerator's bright white glow and say to myself, "I'm giving this to someone and they're going to enjoy it!" (Side note: I just learned my pal Alison Y. feels the same way! We bonded over the fact that we will eat two whole avocados in one sitting rather than allow them to get overripe and wrinkle up like raisins.)
I apply this philosophy to writing as well. So I thought about it for a while, wondering, "Where else could I send this essay?" By late October, I came up with the answer. I submitted just the pitch for the piece and within days an editor asked to see a draft. Since I'd already written it, that was easy. I sent the essay and three days later the editor wrote back to say she'd like to run it.
Now, reader, here's the best part—not only does this publication have a much wider reach than the first place, but also I was paid six times what the other site would've offered.
I'm sharing this not to be all "Yay, me!" or "Please go read this essay!" but because so often we take rejection personally. We view it as a sign that we aren't good enough, that our work isn't good enough. It's hard to not internalize it and give up. Yet so much—especially in writing or even job hunting—is beyond our control. A lot is purely subjective. I was on a webinar yesterday and the word "resonate" was used no less than 1,200 times so I won't say that here. But what I mean is this: Often whether something "clicks" with a reader or hiring manager is out of our hands.
Instead of feeling down about it, what if we viewed rejection as redirection—a road block or detour that pops up to guide you to a new, better destination? It's not easy, but that's how I'm choosing to see it.
As I mentioned a few posts ago, the final months of 2022 were rife with rejection for projects I believe in. (More on that in another post.)
These rejections stung—like bees multiplied by jellyfish raised to the power of murder hornets—but I'm not giving up. I refuse to let them go to waste.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to enjoy a zucchini that's been shriveling in the bottom of my crisper.