Two weeks ago in my prose Creative Writing class, we read and discussed Bret Lott’s essay, “A Home, a House: On Writing and Rejection,” from Before We Get Started: A Practical Memoir of the Writer’s Life. In the essay, Lott explores the relationship between the writing life and the publishing life, using the analogy of a lean-to in the woods for the writing space and a house built from rejections (and acceptances). He calculates, as of August 2004, that he has received 597 rejections (for stories and essay alone–not his books). This figure (understandably) startled my students.
As I visual aid, I brought my binder of rejections (those that I saved) beginning in 2003 and running through 2009, when I stopped saving them. The binder also contains my earliest acceptances, including my first post-MFA acceptance: a poem in The Chaffin Journal. I told my students how I had danced around my apartment, how Amy and I had celebrated by going out to eat at some fast-food place in Southeast Portland. Using the classroom projector, I displayed my Submittable account, showing them first the number of rejections, and then the acceptances. My disclosures added an up-close example of several of Lott’s points.
By my rough estimate, in 12 years I’ve sent out close to 500 submissions. As my website’s publications section attests, some fellow editors have decided to publish my poems, stories, essays, and reviews. I’m proud of each item on that list, not embarrassed by any of them, and I take great satisfaction in the places where some of these works were published.
Lott reminds writers that they “will be rejected,” and he suggests that writers need to view the submission element of writing as a “business transaction.” I understand both ends of the “business transaction” element of submissions: as a writer, and as an editor. Since I became editor of Windhover in 2012, my own comfort level with being rejected has increased. This isn’t to suggest that I enjoy rejection but only that I understand and “accept” the dynamics: I don’t take rejection personally. I reexamine the work (perhaps), and then send the piece (or pieces) out again.
In the closing section of the essay, Lott reminds writers that the real joy, the real delight is in the creation of (and reworking of) the pieces themselves. I agree. Probably because I hold on to that exhortation, I find that the submission process (the rejections, the acceptances, the unanswered submissions, the lost submissions) doesn’t wildly raise or drop my emotional barometer as it once used to. Perhaps as Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes in that famous passage, we might add that there is time for publication, a time for rejection.