Keeping up with the Joneses: Getting Told No

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When you go through a creative writing program, you will often hear authors talk about the process of being denied. You might have heard it just from looking on the internet for tips to get published, or tips for writing. Authors get used to being told no, or they don’t make it. That is the prevailing wisdom, and I assume it is true. 

Those writers that came before sometimes talk about having drawers full of rejection letters from magazines and publishing houses. That sounds amazing, because who writes letters anymore? More so because being told you aren’t good enough that many times would break the average person. Unfortunately, it seems to be the way things go. There are only so many publications out there, and there are more writers out there than you can shake a badly organized portfolio of fictional works at. 

Needless to say, I’m one of them. I’ve briefly been on the other side of the rejection situation, when I got to intern on the editing team for my school’s literary magazine. Even in that short time I realized there are too many stories, and too little time. Something good could sink to the bottom, because there is so much dreck out there that you might catch a first reader at a bad time. I’m sorry guy who had a touching story about the death of an elderly woman, I just got done reading a story about a woman watching her dog lick its balls, I’m sort of in a bad way right now.

Now I’m getting my rejections. Well, I’ve been rejected before, but usually it comes in the form of an email. It isn’t a huge deal when I get an email saying that my story isn’t going to be taken. It will sink to the bottom of the archives, and I will never see it again. This rejection though took on a whole new monstrous form. It was a contest, for an award at the Bellingham Review, and entering the contest guaranteed me a copy of the magazine. So not only did I not get in, now I get to read what made it in instead of me.

I wouldn’t wish this upon my worst enemy. It is hard to imagine a psychological torture more foul than seeing other works you know were deemed superior to yours. I immediately started asking why. was it this intro paragraph? Is it because of this colorful diction? Is it the flow of the plot, or the random additions here and there? WHY!? WHY!? WHY!? 

My ego could have used a victory, and instead I have grim motivation. I have to look at other stories that I was sure I could beat out, and know that I’m still not good enough. Now if you excuse me, I’m going to go cry into a cup of hot coffee while I turn the page.

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