He let this news register for a moment and asked her, “Is there somebody else?”
“Oh, gosh,” the girl replied. “There just has to be.”
Nobody likes rejection. Sometimes it seems that an actual kick in the teeth would be preferable.
And yet, people willingly choose any number of careers in which being rejected is a built-in part of the job.
You work hard for weeks, months, even years on a story you're really proud of, then edit and shape the narrative until it's perfect and polished within an inch of its life, and finally mail the finished product off for an editor to consider. He/she loves the story, sends you money for it, and asks you to write lots more just like it.
In your dreams.
Much more common is for a writer — especially of that strange, other-worldly material called fiction — to accumulate so many rejection slips along the road to first publication that the “No, thanks” notes can actually be used to paper an office wall.
I know this from first-hand experience. But then one day I read a book on the ancient Chinese design practice known as Feng Shui, which holds that the arrangement of physical objects in your immediate surroundings has a major impact on your state of mind and, thus, your peace and happiness.
So I cleaned off my wall, boxed up all the paper failure-tokens, and put a match to them.
Which didn’t keep new ones from coming in the mail, but the room where I wrote each day seemed a lot brighter. And eventually, some editor up north liked one of my stories and sent me a lot of money for it. OK, a LITTLE money. But still.
The one reminder of the long, hard road I kept on my wall was a Peanuts comic strip, in which my hero Snoopy gets a letter from a publisher to whom he’s submitted his “It was a dark and stormy night...” novel.
“Dear Contributor,” the letter says. “With the cost of postage seeming to escalate almost daily, you will notice that we’re enclosing two rejection slips. One is for the manuscript you sent us, and the other is for the next manuscript you plan to send us. Best regards...”
I figured that as long as I didn’t get one of those Snoopy rejections, I was ahead of the game.
Luckily, after a person has been writing for enough years, the rejection storm usually thins out considerably. But it never goes away. For every writer you can name who has a popular book, or two, or three, chances are he/she has a filing cabinet somewhere with an unpublished manuscript (or two, or three) that's been told “no” so many times its jersey has been retired.
You win some, you lose some. A severe optimist would argue that the unseen stories were nonetheless necessary to make the “good” ones possible. A severe pessimist wouldn’t be writing them in the first place. So it all kind of works out.
The best explanation of the phenomenon I’ve heard is from Kentucky writer Wendell Berry, who’s no stranger to dirt fields: “The real reason a farmer plants isn't to make money off a crop. He plants because it’s time to plant. That's why he’s a farmer.”
The same theory works for writing through rejection, for practicing baseball even though your team’s most recent game got them a historic clobbering and even for accidentally falling in love.
Stranger things happen.
Dale Short is a native of Walker County. His columns, photos, and radio features are available on his website, carrolldaleshort.com. His weekly radio program "Music from Home" airs each Sunday at 6 pm on Oldies 101.5 FM, streams live online at www.oldies1015fm.com, and is archived afterward on his website.