Recently, I fell in love with a man. The experience was a fabulously terrifying roller coaster ride that ended with a squealing of brakes and the metaphorical equivalent of me in a neck brace.
For a while, I sobbed. For the next while, I ached. Then, I began to feel shaky—was something wrong with me? If he didn’t want to be with me, then I was unworthy, unlovable. Friends, family, and mental health professionals urged me to look at it differently. Right place, wrong time, perhaps. Just not a good fit.
When we put words down on a page, and send those pages to publications, it’s inevitable that we’ll get rejected. A lot.
Dating feels kind of similar; most of the time, you finish your glass of wine, you enjoy the conversation, but when you say goodnight, you know it’s not really right.
Sometimes you think it might be, and you don’t hear from the person again. Kind of like sending essays out to the glossies and never even getting a response, not even a tiny canned email, ‘We enjoyed your writing, but it’s just not right for us at this time.’
So what’s a writer to do? Does every rejection mean ‘You really suck and your writing stinks, and who do you think you’re kidding anyway?’
I feel this for a moment or three when I open the ‘thanks, anyway’ emails, but the editors aren’t holding a referendum on our worthiness. What rejection means is this: you’re getting out there. And that’s the right thing to do.
In the world of love, you can’t win if you don’t play. If you meet lots of people, inevitably you’re going to have to let lots of them go, and visa versa. ‘I enjoyed your company, but it’s just not right for me at this time.’
After a dozen rejections on the same essay, it might be time to take a closer look at the piece: is there a weird typo you missed? Maybe there are some structural issues. Time for a rewrite?
When I get fired up about someone romantically, weird things start to happen: I obsess, I future trip, I start to get angry when the fantasy isn’t fulfilled. So I miss out on what the person is actually offering.
If the rejection slips pile up and you don’t have another prospect elsewhere, it can be pretty discouraging. Many irons in the fire is one way to handle it, in dating and in writing. I recently complained to a friend that I’d dated seven men over the past few months and not one of them panned out. ‘Great!’ she gushed. ‘That means you’re really committed, that you’re really getting out there.’
Deep down, we know as writers that we’re writing for a reason. Is the reason publication? Probably not, but it sure feels good when that happens.
Is the only worthwhile thing in life potential lovers? Hardly. They make it sweeter, for sure. But there are also stellar friends, my sweet kids, the wisteria that goes crazy every spring in my garden, the way I felt yesterday during Tree pose.
Dating is worth doing, because connection is so important. Submitting our work is worth doing, because writing is about communicating, it’s about connection.