When you get a rejection

Do you mope? Do you spiral down into days of depression? Do you send those poems out again right away?

Sunday I got one of those rejections where I tell myself–yes, it was a long shot, but I didn’t want it to be a long shot. I had hope. (True embarrassing fact: I’ve been submitting to this journal since 1985 without an acceptance yet.)

I’m betting no one likes getting rejections. And now they’re usually electronic, which is why I don’t like using my email reading pane. I like the message closed–just like an envelope–and the anticipation, that moment when the news is still possibly good (and sometimes it is good).

Then there’s that weirdness when you get a really personal rejection letter one time and then the next you get the form letter and you feel like you’ve fallen out of the good graces. That’s what happened with another recent rejection.  (Only in poetry can rejection feel like the good graces.)

Monday, I was still depressed and frustrated, asking the questions about why my poetry isn’t good enough and will my poems ever be good enough (I explore, I try new things–and apparently, in these contexts, I’m still coming up short), about how best to focus my time (revising old poems, generating new work, researching blogging), and about how I could increase the time I have each day or use it better. Plus the question about getting out into the community more (I support my community by helping to edit two journals, but I’m terrible about getting out and going to hear readings). Are these questions productive, or would Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi say that they’re psychic entropy, a big swirling negative distraction? Either way, as I’ve mentioned before, Jeannine’s been running a great series of posts on all these “poetry career” questions.

Through this brief grimness, I’ve also remembered two things:

First, I remember the acceptances I’ve gotten. I got a great acceptance earlier in the week. Hello, Joannie–anybody home? I take a moment to be thankful for that positive recognition, that one vote for my poems and that those poems have found a home. That I have a book pending and my chapbook was recently a finalist. Again, HELLO?!

Second, I remind myself that rejections aren’t fun for the sender either. I’ll risk generalizing my own experience here: I’d much rather send an acceptance that will make someone happy for a moment or a day than send a rejection that’s going to disappoint someone. People will tell you that rejections come with the territory, and that’s true both for the writer and the editor.

This morning, with a little residual disappointment, I’m moving on. I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep trying new things. Next reading period, I’ll probably send to that journal again. In the meantime, I need to find a place to send those poems.

I’ll ask again: How do you approach or respond to rejection? Do you allow yourself a little time to mourn, or do you get right back up on the submission horse and ride off toward the sunrise?

Reading: Bender, by Dean Young

Update: Yesterday afternoon, I received an acceptance for a poem from my forthcoming book. A good reminder to keep taking the long view, to keep the details in perspective.

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