You’d think that by now, at age 40, I’d be used to the keen sting of rejection. After all, it happens to everyone at least once, but surely more than that, in a lifetime of searching and loving.
I remember the first rejection I suffered. I was in kindergarten and one of my very best friends told me she could no longer play with me because, according to her mother, I was the wrong color. She actually used a word that I won’t repeat, a word that confused me enough so I had to ask my mom what it meant. I remember being bewildered and sad — but I also remember that in the years to come that girl and I remained friendly.
Then there are the heartaches, the young loves that are so serious when we are in the thick of emotion. There are a few breakups in particular that still give me a little pang of sorrow, more for the memory of the hurt rather than the loss itself. Now those breakups seem more like losses of friendships than anything else.
Other rejections — rejections from would-be friends, colleges, teams, jobs — come, sting, and fade. Those are the kinds you remember with laughter and a shrug of the shoulder, wondering what all the fuss was about, let-downs that are so whatever seen from the place where you are now.
As a writer, though, rejection is harder for me to handle. I know, I know. It happens to all of us, no matter how successful a writer becomes in her lifetime. Google the topic, and you’ll find lists and lists of famous authors and their harsh rejection letters. But sometimes, especially when you are new at it, it’s hard to not interpret a rejection of the work as a rejection of you, when, in matters of creativity, the two are so closely intertwined.
My first rejection as a writer came during college, when I’d submitted an article to a national magazine as part of an assignment. Looking back, I know just why it was rejected, but at the time it really hurt. I was a very good writer — I knew it in my bones, and everyone told me so. I had expected it to be easier.
It seems funny now.
Another rejection that makes me laugh today came from a Fancy Big City Newspaper, where I’d applied for a job as an editorial assistant. The form letter amounted to something like “You are so hugely underqualified for this position we can’t believe you had the nerve to send us this dreck. Other applicants with better resumes beg us for jobs and we laugh at their peon faces. Find a hole to hide in, you worthless excuse for a writer.”
Luckily, a much more forward thinking city desk editor at the Boston Herald gave me a chance — based on my submission of POETRY, of all things, since my other writing had been lost in cyberspace shortly before my interview. I don’t know what he was thinking, but he gave me a foot in the door to an incredible learning experience as a journalist, not to mention bylines. By hiring me, he welcomed me to the place where I met my friend Mark, who had this very awesome best friend, Ray, who’s been my best friend and husband for almost ten years.
Imagine if Fancy Newspaper had hired me!
I get rejections for my writing often these days. I’ve ventured into formerly unexplored territory by writing for children, and rejection comes to all new kidlit writers. Still, it still hurts.
Recently, I had a good exchange with a fantastic agent, and was hoping for the best. Unfortunately, she just didn’t click with my work in that meaningful way an agent must, if she or he is to do a proper job of representing an author. She passed on me and wished me great luck in finding the right match. It hurt, but not as much as I would’ve thought. Maybe I am growing a thicker skin, after all.
Because what she said is true. Just like in the matters of the heart, the perfect match is crucial.
Still, I can’t help wishing that someone had written a sentimental song about this kind of rejection. I remember listening to music in my teens that helped me process the injury, grieve, and move on. Whenever I hear one of these songs today, I smile and reminisce, because rather than being a sore spot, the memory has become a fond one, a memory of a chance taken and a lesson learned.
Phil Collins, where are you??