Confession Thursday: On Being Rejected as a Writer or The WTH? Edition

All rejection letters should be so kind (and funny)

Dear Reader, 

I usually confess on Tuesday.  I usually tell you all the things I've been up to, or thinking about, or yadda yadda yadda...on Tuesday.

But it's not normally 80 degrees in Seattle in May.
It's normally warm enough to go paddleboarding and mountain biking.

None of this is normal, so apparently, my confession isn't either.  So let's begin...

To the Confessional--

I confess when I read what Cheryl Strayed wrote for a status on her Facebook page, I was thankful.

Here's what she wrote:

Going through a drawer I found the submissions/applications log I've kept off and on over the years. Just in case you think it's all been roses I'd like to report that Yaddo rejected me (as recently as 2011). McDowell rejected me. Hedgebrook rejected me twice. The Georgia Review rejected me and Ploughshares rejected me and Tin House rejected me, as did about twenty other journals and magazines. Both The Sun and The Missouri Review rejected me before I appeared in their pages. Literary Arts declined to give me a fellowship three times before I won one. I've applied for an NEA five times and it's always been a no. Harper's magazine never even bothered to reply. I say it all the time but I'll say it again: keep on writing. Never give up. Rejection is part of a writer's life. Then, now, always.

I confess I like it when writers tell you they are rejected, they still have doubts about their writing.


I confess I am working on the final of my manuscript that is due the END of this month and I question myself.

I question myself, my work, my ideas, my vision.
I look at a poem and roll my eyes.

Here is the dialogue that goes on in my head as I take poems out and put them back in:

Poem, you are not the beautiful thing I thought I created, you are just a page filler and I can't stand you.

Poem, I'm sorry I took you out, you're not as ugly I thought, I'll put you back in, but somewhere new that will improve your beauty.

Poem, you're hideous, leave the manuscript now.

Poem, I'm sorry, why was I so hard on you? I can see your subtle features.

Poem, I'm over you again.  I've found a new poem, a better poem.  

And so on.  For hours.  Me revising.


I confess rejections hurt more.  Some days rejections don't hurt at all.  Most days, they're just annoying like mosquitoes that won't let me enjoy my veggie burger.

Some days being a writer is sitting around a campfire toasting marshmallows.  Occasionally, you lose one or two marshmallows to the fire.  Occasionally, one marshmallow will turn out perfectly.
Mostly, you rush through the toasting of the marshmallow and burn it.

What's worse than rejection?  Never trying.
What's worse than rejection?  Not submitting.
What's worse than rejection?  Feeling afraid to be rejected.

What's worse than rejection?  
Not living the life you want because someone else said no.


I confess the older I get, the more I do what I want, despite public approval.

I confess the older I get, I still want to write the best poems and essays, and I want people to like it.

But negative reviews won't stop me.

I'll write for the ones who like Green Rivers, Mexican chocolate, and keylime pie.  I'll write for the ones who love postage stamps and typewriters.  I'll write for the ones who adore hedgehogs and could spend the days watching clouds.

This is my perfect audience.

And when doubt comes in, I'll confess it still haunts me, but I push through it.
And I hope you do too.

A favorite quote from Sylvia Plath:  

       I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.


~ Kells

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  1. Love this! Some commentors were just talking about rejections on my blog as well :) I had a hard one this week because I really liked the poems I sent, and even though I sent them to a big journal I really thought they had a chance. But, onward :)

  2. Double Amen with a chocolate covered marshmallow on top. Best article on rejections I've read. And I really need to read this today. Thanks.

  3. I just returned "Why We Write" (edited by Meredith Maran) to the library. Whenever I'm feeling stuck or something about my own writing, I go read things by other writers. And read this blog. And then I go write some more.

  4. Oh Kelli, you are speaking to the choir. My poor little poems are tough, tho. They will find their place in the sun soon.

    Rejection still hurts, but I'm a
    glutton for punishment.

  5. I cried when I read this--real tears, not col!

    Rejections does often keep me from sending things out.

    (I'm still crying.) Sorry.

    What I wanted to say was thanks for the little broadside!!! I LOVED the poem! THANKS!!!

  6. Great post, and it brings to mind one of my favorite poems: Marjorie Manwaring's Gertrude Stein Rejection . . . which can be found here

  7. I absolutely love this post. I am sorry you still feel insecure at times, or worried, or upset. But I love that I'm not alone in my thoughts while revising. I love that you continue to persevere.

    I keep a binder of all my rejection letters/emails that I actually recieve, and a list of everywhere I've submitted and the result (since rejection notices seem to be more and more unusual... even the form ones). Every rejection makes me sad, but it tells me I tried in the first place. And THAT is a triumph all its own.


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