On Rejection

It seems I’ve been collecting rejection notices lately. Yesterday’s came from the MacDowell Colony, to which I had applied earlier this year because I wanted to get some writing done in a quiet place, away from home. I had visions of sitting in one of their cozy studios, sipping Earl Grey or Darjeeling or whatever, and composing my newest magnum opus. But that won’t be happening. I’m disappointed, of course, but over the last ten years I’ve learned that rejection is just part of the writer’s life. And I’ve also learned that you can’t really evaluate what a rejection means when it’s just happened; you have to wait to gain some perspective. I remember how disappointed I was to have a story rejected from a particular literary magazine, and now when I think about that I just laugh to myself because that magazine went out of business (and I ended publishing that story elsewhere anyway.) There’s a great book that I often recommend to my grad students when they get discouraged. It’s called Mortification: Writers’ Stories of their Public Shame. One of my favorites is the story that Margaret Atwood tells of giving a reading of The Edible Woman in the men’s sock and underwear section of a major department store.

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