Two kinds of rejection

In February, I joined a record number of people in applying for Clarion West, a prestigious six week intensive workshop for promising writers in the Speculative Fiction genre. I knew my odds were slim and while most applicants spent most of March biting their nails, I was distracted by Pop’s diagnosis and the accompanying personal world shift. I *almost* hoped I wouldn’t get in because maybe I wouldn’t be able to go with everything that was going on. But then I really did want to get in because it would be an incomparable experience, a new community, an intensive opportunity to share critiques — to learn to be a better reader and writer.

I received my rejection letter this week. I archived it away and felt a sense of completion, regret, relief. But then curiosity got the better of me. And I started to look at the twitters. A few people wrote blog posts about their rejections. Some even posted rejection letters. In the middle, some said:

We realize this is a disappointment, but hope you will apply to Clarion West in the future as our readers ranked your work highly.

Then, like mine, it said:

We wish you the best with your writing, and hope you have a productive summer. Thank you again for your interest in Clarion West.

And all of a sudden, I felt terrible. I received no middle paragraph. No encouragement to try again. No high ranking from readers. So how bad was I? Is there another letter that states, “Please never apply again, you ignorant hack” putting me squarely in the mediocre tier, or am I that hack? Oh god, I’m the hack! What am I doing? Just why do I think that I have any talent at all?

Then I think, snap the fuck out of it. This is the biz, these are the breaks. Show them or don’t. If you’re going to whine, go crawling back into finance and put up with moronic, chauvinistic yes-men for another 20 years while watching your soul die.

On second thought, let’s just keep those rejection letters coming.

6 thoughts on “Two kinds of rejection

  1. I feel awkward commenting on this since I did get in this year, and I hope that doesn’t invalidate this for you. (I know for some people it would, and I understand.)

    But as a slush reader, I have something useful to say!

    “Show them or don’t. If you’re going to whine, go crawling back into finance and put up with moronic, chauvinistic yes-men for another 20 years while watching your soul die.”

    You can clearly write. That sentence right there is shining, brilliant, punch-in-the-face proof. I didn’t see your application, and I am not going to claim I know what they were looking for. But I do know that whether or not you got a “high ranking” from the readers may only have to do with *this year* the way my high ranking for a story I pick out of the slush may only have to do with *this issue.* For whatever reason, the readers didn’t feel strongly about putting you in a class with *these* instructors. Perhaps this is belaboring the point, but every time a themed anthology closes, we get fifty bazillion “I was a teenage alien prostitute” or “what if Sasquatch lived in the big city?” stories. So there’s also our fellow applicants to consider: if one reader read twenty “twisted fairy tale” entries and yours happened to be the nineteenth, it could impair the chances of a personal connection to your work. Luck is a sonofa, you know?

    It looks like you already got over it, but I just wanted to offer an extra vote: you are NOT a “hack,” and you should keep applying, because your determined attitude and snappy prose are going to delight (and motivate!) your classmates when you get in.

    • Thank you so very much for the fresh perspective. (I knew I should have gone with the “Sasquatch prostitute” story!) When I made the decision to write full time, I knew that this was ahead. We write because we’re simultaneously vulnerable and narcissistic — so while I’m *sure* I have something to say, I’m prone to these dazzling, melodramatic spasms of doubt. Soon I’ll put many powerful sentences together and then maybe magic will happen. With any luck 😉

      I must say, though, congratulations — from the bottom of my heart. I simply can’t wait to see what you’re all going to accomplish. Thanks again for the viewpoint and the compliment.

  2. I agree with PiB, and I like the vinegar in your response. I commend you for getting back on the horse and showing them that this rejection isn’t going to keep you down long. That’s what makes a writer a writer, in my view.

    For me, I got the “future…highly ranked” rejection. It doesn’t make me feel any better (or worse, really) about the process. You’re either in or you’re out, and I’m okay. Having been rejected 64 times (and counting) in the past ~two years, it’s really just one more rejection. Overall, I’m down right now, off my horse, and content to let it wander without me for a while.

    but i’ll get up there again soon, and knowing there are other people, like yourself, who are shaking the dust off as well makes me hopeful that I’ll be able to do that same.

    Thanks for the post.

    • Thanks very much for the input. I can understand your perspective also and I suspect that if I were in your shoes, I’d feel about the same.

      I like your horse metaphor. You and the horse can take a moment to breathe. I think that sometimes the breaths that we take in life are as important as being in the action. Sometimes we receive more clarity when we let go for a moment. You’ve been at the submission game a lot longer than I have. At some point it has to be exhausting and if you can’t give yourself a break, there’s no time for creative rejuvenation.

      We’ll be looking forward to when you mount up again. When you do, we’ll celebrate with carrots.

      • It has been exhausting. I think I’ve pushed too hard, and I need a break. Then again, I’m already itching to get back at it. When I get to the point where the enthusiasm to write is too much to suppress, that’ll likely be a signal. I’ll dispense with the spurs next time, though. I think I put too much pressure on myself to move too far forward, too fast. Soon, it’ll be time to meander and have some fun.

        For now…I’ll stick to reading all of these wonderful short stories I have lying about. 😀

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