Grits and Purls

Spinning yarns about the grit of life

This week I received a piece of correspondence that further secures my position in the universal writer’s guild: a rejection e-mail. This rejection notice congratulated me on making the top five percent of considered entries, but regretfully informed me that I did not make the final cut. As I told my husband, I think this means that I am “almost good.”

Rejection is a funny thing. It always stings, and we always remember it, but it has at least two positive aspects. First, not just anybody can be rejected. Only a person who is willing to risk failure can be rejected. Fear of failure is why people cheat and plagiarize, why they engage in “funny” accounting or lie on loan applications and falsify information on resumes. Putting yourself and your work “out there” honestly? In the south, we would say that takes gumption, and gumption is something not everybody has.

When I was in college a good friend was turned down for graduate study at Harvard. Her response was, “Well, at least I can say that I was rejected from one of the finest institutions in the world.” That’s the right attitude.

If I can’t be a renowned author, I will at least acquire a fine collection of rejection e-mails and letters.

The second positive aspect of rejection is motivation. When I was in graduate school at Emory University in Atlanta, the chairman of the biology department had two letters displayed in a frame outside his office door. The first letter in the frame was the letter from the search committee at Emory congratulating him on being selected as the biology department chairperson. The second letter was dated some twenty years earlier; it was a letter rejecting his application for graduate study at Emory University. I never asked him, but I always wondered if the first letter he received, the rejection letter, planted the seed of the idea that he would someday be running the biology department at Emory.

Many people who have gone on to do great things started out in the face of rejection. Daniel Burnham, architect of 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago was denied admission into both Harvard and Yale schools of architecture, yet both schools awarded him honorary degrees in 1893 in recognition of his work, and he was eventually recognized as one of America’s great architects.

J.K. Rowling is the first person in the world to become a billionaire by writing books, and her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected by the first twelve publishing houses to which it was submitted. L.M. Montgomery, the author of the Anne of Green Gables Series, submitted the initial manuscript of that series to several publishers before anyone accepted it. After receiving several rejection letters, she stuffed the manuscript in a shoe box for two years before she sent it out again. The book, Anne of Green Gables, was eventually published, and it was an immediate best seller.

So as I think about my essay and what I am going to do about my rejection e-mail, I figure that first I’ll start with a big bowl of ice cream. Then I’ll take a look at the essay and see if I can tighten up my writing or see if there are elements missing or if there is a better venue for it. Then I’ll try again. At the very least I’ll get another letter to add to my collection.

© 2008, 2009 Michele Arduengo. All Rights Reserved.

4 thoughts on “Rejected

  1. psykedelictrails says:

    Here’s my experience. It happened with the Florida Writer’s Association.

    The parameters of the competition were as follows. Three different people will read your entry. The lowest possible score that they can give you is a 10, and the highest score is a 50. With this in mind, I submitted a short story to the annual FWA writing competition. I got back the results: 48, 38, 12. Marvelous. Two people got it, one didn’t. Okay… no problem; no prize; no big deal. In fact, I have since used these numbers to remind myself that anything I write (including this blog) is subject to the scrutiny of others whose opinions about what constitutes good, average, and poor writing are so diverse that three randomly sampled individuals can offer so great a variety as almost perfect, well above average, and rotten. Winning the prize pales in comparison to the lesson learned: there is no objective opinion that will evaluate the quality of anyone’s work, so we should all stop worrying about it.

    The value of the work comes from the creative process. The publication and selling of the work is ego gratification. Not the same thing. In fact, were I asked to choose between authoring something that fills me with the kind of invigoration that the act of writing brings even though no one else will ever read it, earning me nothing for my endeavor, and publishing and selling a work that was written without passion but shall bring me money, I would choose the former. I don’t write for the money and I don’t really need anyone else to validate my writing. My writing comes from within me, and it is enough that I validate it and feel that I have done something worthy, even if in another’s opinion it only merits a 12.

    48, 38, 12. A lesson for the ages.

    1. Michele Arduengo says:

      I had similar experience with a writing board exam, with three different reviewers giving three different assessments of my work; two of the assessments were mutually exclusive. The lesson is to take the good stuff and have the confidence to ignore the rest.

  2. Brianna says:

    thank you for this post. sometimes it’s harder to find perspective after rejection (at least in the immediate aftermath). you have such a great attitude, and that’s inspiring.

    1. Michele Arduengo says:

      Hi Brianna,
      Thanks for the comment. It’s easy to have a good attitude when your looking for a topic for a weekly newspaper column and the rejection slip is the only thing that is sticking in your brain! But, on the other hand, I really do believe that an attitude of the rejected or turned down being an elite group of people because they at least tried is true. I also agree with the previous comment that writing is a very personal thing, and you write to satisfy some inner urge. (Although the praise and money that occasionally comes your way is nice–if you have been true to yourself in what you have written).

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