Thursday, September 04, 2008
I worked on my manuscript today. While I just learned it was a semi-finalist in a recent competition, it was also rejected by one of my favorite presses that said (and these are my words, not theirs), "It has a nice beat, but we can't dance to it."
I looked back in my records to see if I had sent the same version of the mss. Yep. I've revised it since then, my manuscript slowly becoming the scab I can't stop touching. Poor manuscript, you are not a scab. Sometimes, I just need to stop touching it.
It's a reminder to me that someone's semi-finalist is another's not-so-much. I'm American Pie & Disco Duck at the same time. One boy tells me I have a nice smile, another says I have a small mouth.
I have to remind myself not to rip apart what I think is good when someone shakes their head no at me, and I have to tell myself to stop bowing in the mirror when someone says "nice job." While feedback from others is helpful, I cannot base my entire manuscript on it. I can listen and consider, but my work cannot be a knee-jerk reaction to what someone else said.
I wrote a short essay for my graduate program about rejection and how I deal with it (summary: I email my favorite poetry/writer friends and they tell me I'm lovely, talented, wonderful, etc. etc. They say "Their loss!" and "You're too good for them." Beautiful friends.) And as I writing this essay I wanted to look into some of the rejections that other more well-known writers have received.
Here were a few from Rotten Rejections: The Letters that Publishers Wish They Never Sent, that I found worth sharing--
“... overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy. It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.”
A rejection for the book Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov—now imagine receiving that in your mailbox. (Under a stone for a thousand years? Harsh.)
“There certainly isn't enough genuine talent for us to take notice,” received by Sylvia Plath from an editor.
"The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the curiosity' level,” one of many rejections for The Diary of Anne Frank, which went on to be rejected sixteen more times before being accepted by Doubleday in 1952.
The acceptance part of poetry and of all art is subjective. I do my best and cross my fingers. Luck and timing, another part of the writing life I'll talk about some other time, but for now, I return to my manuscript already in progress.
Written by Kelli Russell Agodon