Letter to...

To the Cruel Editor Who Keeps Rejecting My Work

The Godfather was wrong—it's never strictly business. It's always personal, very personal.

Dear Larry,

"I am happy to keep reading the pieces that you submit, but ..."

Rejection. It's a lifelong reality—from the teams we don't make, to the girls we don't get, to the schools that don't accept us, to the dream jobs given to someone else. And this latest one—from you.

When do we get good at dealing with rejection? And should we ever?

Mother Teresa provided the following advise in "The Joy of Loving, A Guide to Daily Living":

To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.

To pass over the mistakes of others.

To accept insults and injuries.

To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked.

To be kind and gentle even under provocation.

Never to stand on one's dignity.

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A little less than a decade ago, I began submitting my writing to various publications. Amazingly, initial success was followed by a long string of acceptances. My words appeared in books, magazines and newspapers. Yet it has always felt like a parlor trick to me, some algorithm that I had somehow mastered, secretly knowing that it was always subject to change.

Even in these best of times, failures were the far more common denominator. Words that I was proud to have written were sometimes found wanting. Keep going, I told myself, when I wasn't saying to hell with all of this nonsense. In the final analysis, rejection has not made me more diligent, hardened or creative. It has just made me unhappy—as it always has.

Despite what the Godfather said about it not being personal, my ego continues to bump up against every professional rejection. Now in the midst of my seventh decade, I still struggle with how to respond. Writing is a hobby for me, but it's apparently the one thing at which I may excel. And to be constantly reminded, by silence or a politely worded reply ("This one isn't quite right for us, Robert"), that you're not good enough, hurts. Because it is personal. It's always personal.

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I am a person with feelings. Shakespeare wrote, "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" I bleed, Larry, which I guess makes you … well, draw your own conclusions.

I'm sure you have had your share of rejection. I know it, even without knowing you. When you're reading those words are you saying, "Yes of course I have," or "What the hell is wrong with this pathetic guy?" If it's the latter, what's your secret? Were you always able to steel yourself against the unintended cruelties of life? If you say yes, are you being truthful with me? With yourself? [Editor's note: I've been rejected more than George Costanza.]

It's ironic that I'm submitting a piece on rejection and hoping it will not be rejected. If it's not, I will in some way have turned failure into success. But if it receives a fate similar to that of my last several submissions, will I be able to glean anything from this experience other than what doesn't kill us makes us stronger?

Maybe I'm just going through a dry spell. I've recently had a few pieces published in a newspaper, but not the one that has long been my go-to. And there's a short story that I expect will soon see the light of day. That said, I can't seem to come to grips with the possibility that I'm just not that good, that talented, that worthy. I've been told a lot of writers feel the same way, which I guess puts me in good company, but doesn't really make me feel all that much better.

Rejection, in all of its forms and throughout my life, has always tasted the same. It goes down bitter and takes a while to dissipate. Maybe that's why writers like to drink.

So while I wait, sitting in limbo, I'm reminded of a quote attributed to the now disgraced Lance Armstrong: "A boo is a lot louder than a cheer."

I fear I'll forever be more Lance Armstrong than Mother Teresa.

Larry, please be gentle.


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