Why rejection is good for the soul

I got another rejection notice yesterday. It was for a story I wrote during grad school, in my fiction workshop with Linda Svendsen, about a couple in the St. Louis suburbs dealing with a wayward armadillo. (I think I’ve written about that story here before, but anyway.) There was an article in the Missouri Botanical Garden’s member magazine about how climate change was making northerly locations more hospitable for animals like the armadillo, and it got me thinking about things and people that are out of place in the place they’ve chosen to live, which is a common theme in a lot of what I write, and…

Well, I’m getting off track again. This is about rejection, not this story in particular.

Anyway, I have a spreadsheet where I keep track of these things. Because you know, rejection on its own isn’t good enough. You have to keep a reminder of it! So that you remember it every time you open the file! Because it’s good for you!

I exaggerate. But you know this already, right?

Anyway, I keep track of this stuff because it would be embarrassing to think “You know, I think this story would be a good fit for [insert name of fantastic and prestigious litmag where you read that awesome story last month and it would be a dream come true to get something published there]” and then send it in only to hear back from them with “Uh, yeah, you sent this to us already and we still don’t want it.”

I’m not the only person who worries about that, am I? (Just say, “No, Jeff, of course you’re not.” Just do that for me.)

So my point (See? I have a point! And I’m getting to it!) is that since I keep a spreadsheet, I know that I’ve sent out stories twenty-six times this year and received twenty-five rejections. That’s about one story every two weeks, which is in fact about half as often as I was hoping to submit stories this year, but glass half full! That’s still pretty good.

Why do I bring this up? Well, a writer I know recently got his third rejection notice recently. Third rejection of the year. He was perhaps a bit dejected about that, but my thought was, “You need to send things out more.”

Yes, it’s true that you need to develop a thick skin about submitting your work. That’s because sometimes you will need to submit your work a lot before you get to an acceptance. Sometimes you’re lucky and it happens right away. Sometimes it takes forever and you keep tweaking or wholesale changing the story because you think maybe it’s not quite there yet. Sometimes you might wonder if anyone is ever going to publish a story and you pour yourself another glass of Chardonnay and say “no one gets it I might as well give up and go back to working in marketing because I suck and this is never going to work I suck isuckisuckisuck.” And then someone sends you an e-mail and says they loved your story and want to publish it.

And that’s when you’re glad that you were persistent.

So my Christmas wish is for persistence, and for luck. For me as well as my fellow writers.

Happy holidays!

From 604 to 314

Right before I finished graduate school, I was in Seattle for AWP and had dinner with my friends James and Justin. (You know, it’s hard sometimes for me to believe that I’ve known James for more than 10 years now, and that we met through blogging. In spite of being in different cities, there we were typing words on screens and making these connections. Which is to say that as much as I’m occasionally a curmudgeonly luddite, I love some of the things that technology has done for me. Glass half full, glass half full!)

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. So, back in March we were talking about my impending graduation and the excitement and trepidation that revolved around all of that (the excitement is gone; the trepidation? Not so much) and he said, “I hope you’re writing everything down because that is going to be one rough transition. It’s bound to make for an interesting essay.”

Boy oh boy, he was not wrong.

I know I’m not the only person who’s gone through this, and that my situation is probably not even that novel. People put their lives on hold and go to grad school, then emerge on the other side and find that they’ve changed, and so has their world, and that the pieces don’t quite line up the way they did before. In my case, returning to the non-academic world meant I was also leaving behind the land of low crime, universal health care, and poutine, not to mention an extensive network of writers and a national culture that placed more value on literature than ours does. (Yes, that’s a generalization, but when the Giller Prize longlist announcement is broadcast live on national media, I think that says something.)

One thing that I did realize recently, though, was that I haven’t completely left the Great White North behind.

If I’ve called or sent you a text in the last five months, you’ll have noticed that I’m calling from a 604 area code, not 314. I still have a Canadian cell phone. I don’t know what you’d call that decision. Part of it’s economic; even with paying extra for U.S. roaming and unlimited data, I’m only paying $54 a month for my cell phone. A bargain! And since I’m freelancing/still (F)unemployed!®, that’s a consideration.

Also, I’m still open to the possibility of working in Canada—I have a postgraduate work permit, after all, and Canada has poutine! So, win-win. It just has to be someplace my partner would want to visit, so the tar sands region of Alberta is out, as are most of the territories, although I did apply for a temporary position in Nunavut, so you never know.

My point (and I do have one!): The phone I got with my Canadian plan is old and is probably on its last legs. So now I’m torn: Try and find a new phone that will be compatible with a Wind Mobile sim card, or finally get a U.S. phone again?

And I still need to work on that essay James was talking about. So many things to do.