Tag Archives: Rejection

Comfort in a Cookie

You Are Not What You EatFor an exercise in my fiction workshop, each student was given a fortune cookie and asked to interact with it. We interacted: we broke them, read the fortunes, nibbled on the cookie chunks or chomped them down in one bite. The exercise was about magical thinking in our own lives and our readers’ lives, and how stories so often rely upon the magic of symbols, the mystical confluence of coincidences. Despite of our capacity for logic, we often attach special meaning to mundane things.

I wanted to resist that superstitious behavior. I am, after all, a pretentious English Major, cold and unfeeling, so I instinctively dismiss all fortunes found in cookies, or any other bourgeois baked goods.

In this class, we have also discussed publication (and lack thereof) at great length. “Writing is an industry of rejection,” the instructor has pointed out. While we try to have thick skin, rejections pile up and start to hurt. So when I read my fortune, I will admit that for a moment I gave into magical thinking:

You will soon be receiving some good written news.

It could have been written just for me. Why not? Why can’t I find a little comfort in a cookie? Most writers know to take rejections in stride, but it’s difficult to take for so long, so why not admit that I wanted some factory-produced strip of paper to let me know that if I wait just a moment longer, I’ll get a big publication in a well-known journal?

After class yesterday, I checked my email, and was surprised to find a response from a literary journal I’d sent a collection of environmental poems to back in December. My heart skipped a beat as I read the email quickly, and to my utter amazement, the journal rejected the poems.

Maybe you thought for a moment that I got a big publication. I’d hoped so, too. Maybe I’ve just demonstrated how easily I can connect an arbitrary object (a fortune cookie) with the right combination of values and aspirations lurking in you, the reader. Or maybe not. Perhaps I’ve manipulated your own experience with rejection, especially if you’re a writer. This is an industry of rejection, and good fortune doesn’t correlate with publication. I’ll keep submitting, and I’ll keep writing and revising, and every now and then I’ll allow myself the comfort of dreaming that maybe, just maybe, I’ll get some good written news.

Fellow writers, how do you cope with rejections? Or have you fortuitously gotten any publications lately? Let me know in the comments, and spread the writerly love.

-jk

Letter to My Future Self Before My First Reading

Brick Wall Portrait

Dear JK,

I’m writing to you because you are about to give your first reading as a published writer, because you stand on the edge of a stage or conference room with a book in your hand, one that you wrote. I don’t know if it will be a collection of poems, short stories, essays, a novel, or a memoir, but I hope it’s good. I want to remind you of a few things.

Right now, I write to you from a place of uncertainty. I’m surrounded by brilliant writers; the competition is tough, and my creative impulse waivers at a moment’s notice. Rejection is a constant, and probably always will be. So before you begin reading, thank the audience for attending. They don’t owe you their ears but you owe them gratitude, and more than that, you owe them a good show.

Remember to read like a presentable version of yourself. Be a performer. Slam your stories, sing your poems, dance your essays. Dig deep to make it memorable.

Remember everybody who brought you to this point: friends, colleagues, allies of your writing, advocates for your experimentation. Remember professors, agents, editors, and your family. They put you behind that mic, after all. Your enemies, hopefully, will show up and sit stroking their lap dogs and sneering at you from the front row.

Obviously your forty-seven lovers will attend as well, so give them a nod of thanks for the inspiration they painted across your body. After all, they gave you something to write about in the first place.

Please remember that you are not here because of you deserve it. You’re here because the world gave you a head start and you navigated forward. The world does not owe you this reading, nor the publication it celebrates. Anybody can write, but only a privileged few can publish. I’m glad that you’ve made it through the fire-branding scorn of rejection and the whiplash of criticism.

Keep one final fact in mind before you step up to the mic: this reading begins your afterlife.

I write to you from the position that getting a book published and reading it publicly, bringing it to life with my voice (ugly as it is) is only an impossible dream. After it happens, I can die happy. And now that you, future self, are going to fulfill this pre-death wish, you are about to embark on an afterlife. Nothing that happens after this first reading can ever hurt you, because you’ve already beaten mortality to your dreams. The time between the moment you begin reading and the moment you give in to the biological inevitability of silence will be the equivalent of Eternity. It will be heaven from here on out, no matter what hell the critics put you through. Nothing can hinder the momentous beauty of what you are about to do. So, I implore you, enjoy the reading. Even if it ends up being your last, even if you end up without a career or subsequent publications, you’ve already made it to heaven.

I hope it’s nice there.

Sincerely and forever writing forward,

-jk

P.S. I hope you’ll never forget how much of a hopeless romantic you really are, and that you spent so much time listening to Father John Misty’s “I Went to the Store One Day” while writing letters to yourself.

One Final Poem

Today marks the end of National Poetry Month. Tomorrow, I will begin a short story I have been planning to write since March. For me, this month brought numerous rejections, one after another, including three short stories, several poems, and a complete poetry manuscript. Nevertheless, I have written twenty-two fresh poems, and to make things better, some of them are not too bad. To celebrate the end of April, I will post one more poem I wrote this month, entitled “Carpe Nix.” Enjoy.

April Snowstorm

Carpe Nix

There may be no good days to be useless,
but what use is today
when it snows three inches, when professors

grow pale over glasses of wine,

when coffee shops contract like muscles
as students file in one by one
preparing for public execution
sanctioned by professors
with sharp wine on their breath?

What good is today
over any other day
when we can’t make snow angels together
because there are convoluted superstructures
to deconstruct into postmodernity?

But I insist on today’s uselessness. I lean in
and whisper to you that you need not
sever your ear and mail it to the Dean
of Arts and Letters for inspection.

That can wait, but
snow angels dance only for so long
before curling up in blankets of mud,

just as you and I will curl up beneath six feet
of fattened worms and swollen soil.
Today it snows voraciously

and you spend three hours conducting surgery
on Albert Camus’s footnotes.

Let them soak for a while in Chardonnay.
The snow angels are calling to us,
announcing a need for dance partners
atop their moistened deathbeds.

Today is a fine day to be useless,
even though coffee-stained idols
must be composed for wine-drunk priests
holding the keys to our future.

But what good is a field of grass
beneath three inches of snow,

or a poet beneath a tombstone?
No more useful than warm fingers,
smooth hands, or sloping shoulders
if they freeze holding a pen
tucked indignantly over the nail-solid logic

of how useless it is to be useful for so long.