I just got another rejection note. This is my third one in a month, so I’ve got my groove on. I’ve been writing for God knows how long, and although I’ve gotten acceptances as well, rejection slips still bite.
I can’t remember my first rejection note. Wait, I do remember. It was for Sassy magazine. Does anyone remember Sassy magazine? They had a fiction contest and I sent in the best short story I ever wrote called A Sixties Memory. I wrote it in Mr. Atkinson’s Freshman English class, how an older brother took his younger sisters to a sit-in in Berkeley. Anyway, it got rejected. I did submit other things to Sassy, but no luck.
When I was nineteen, I sent something to Phoebe literary journal. I chose the magazine simply because it had the same name as Holden’s little sister from Catcher in the Rye. Needless to say, they didn’t publish my story, but they did say my work was provocative. I hung on to that for a long time.
At twenty-three, I sent something to Glimmer Train. I can’t even remember what I sent, but it was enough to send me to bed for an afternoon. I was getting published here and there, but it was mostly school things. I wanted to be like Anne Tyler, Joyce Maynard, and Truman Capote. They all published young! They got published in their twenties! Why couldn’t I?
But the worst rejection writing wise wasn’t one I got in the mail. It happened to my face.
I decided to work on my community college’s literary magazine. I thought it would look good on my college transcripts and I had this daydream of sipping tea, reading fine literature, and deciding which pieces would go in the journal. If I smoked, I would’ve bought a pipe.
Submissions were slow, so I decided to submit something of my own. I submitted it anonymously, and okay, I did think it would be like Ralph’s daydream in A Christmas Story, the one when he wrote a theme about why he has to get a BB gun for Christmas. We see his teacher reading the theme, and then gives him an A++++++++. The crowd cheers and she can’t stop grading his theme!
The short story I submitted was called “Pot and Heads Up, Seven Up” This was a story I wrote in my Creative Writing class and I revised it four times. I was pretty darn proud of this story. It had a young narrator, it had pot, and it had the game Heads Up, Seven Up. Who could resist this story?
We had to sit in a circle and someone made copies of the story. Someone started to read it aloud. Then another person took a turn. I was sitting up straight, feeling proud. Yep, I wrote that story! I’m good!
There was silence when we were done reading. Then someone said “This is really sentimental.”
It pretty much downhill from there.
Each person chewed up the story, then spit it out. One woman’s daughter was there and she went on and on how it didn’t make sense, it wasn’t a real story. This girl was still in high school; in fact, she was in girl scouts and was working on getting some type of badge. Right there I wanted to tell her where to stuff her Thin Mints.
They all pretty much decided that no way was this publishable, in fact it was the worst story ever written (okay, they didn’t say that, but I read between the lines) Did I mention they didn’t like the story? Because they really hated the story. I was reminded of that several times how much they hated the story.
Afterwards when everyone left I had to take several breaths and I called my mother. She had a class at the college and she came early. I was crying so hard. “Pretty Girl, they aren’t rejecting you,” she reminded me as I was in a crying-hiccupping mode. “They just didn’t like the story. That’s all.”
I don’t remember when I did it, but I told the teacher the story was mine. At first, she looked embarrassed, and then she said something I wouldn’t forget: “You know, that was very brave of you. You took a risk, putting yourself out there.”
And that’s what sending writing is: A risk. It’s such a risky risk. Sometimes I understand why J.D. Salinger packed it in and is just storing his writing in his safe. But I know I have to keep on keeping on, otherwise you never get ahead. I remember what Carolyn See once wrote about rejection slips. You take a breath, and then you send the editor a thank you note. Then you write. I sent my thank you note. I just wrote. Okay. Start all over again tomorrow.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries