Inaugural posts are always a bit difficult to write because a writer must share something that will keep readers coming back. But this isn’t simply a first post. This is a post about a rejection letter and that makes it an even more uncomfortable task. Of course, you don’t have to know that. You wouldn’t know there is a bit of a knot in my stomach as I type if I didn’t tell you. But I did tell you because pretending that writing is not scary and tough at times does a disservice to both you and me.
This past Sunday, I opened my mailbox to discover an envelope addressed to me in my own handwriting. A split second of confusion passed before I sighed and lifted it out. “Ergh…” I thought, “as if what’s inside isn’t disheartening enough, it’s my own handwriting staring up at me and I paid for that stupid stamp.” Inside the envelope was a very kind rejection letter, but a rejection letter nonetheless.
Thanks for sending your submission. We’re sorry to say that it’s not right for The Sun. This isn’t a reflection on your writing…[T]he selection process is highly subjective, something of a mystery even to us. There’s no telling what we’ll fall in love with, what we’ll let get away.
There it was. The piece I submitted was not the right fit. I could handle that. I wasn’t even as disappointed as I had expected to be. But what terrified me was the bit about the editors not knowing what they are looking for until they find it. How was I supposed to know what to write for them if they don’t even know what they want?!
Thankfully, before I started on a panicky downward spiral, I remembered a recent lesson from Tammy Strobel’s e-course about writing authentically and building an audience organically. Certainly, I can spend my time as a writer diluting and distorting my writing voice to try to appeal to all audiences, but it is a goal I will ultimately fail to reach. And I will have expended insane amounts of energy in an endeavor that will ultimately destroy my confidence and silence me.
Tammy is far from the only writer who encourages me to write honestly and authentically while trusting that the people who will connect to my writing will find a way to it. It is a lesson any writer must learn if she is to keep writing in the real world rather than the world of her imagining where everyone adores each word that pours from her fingertips. And it is a lesson I must learn in other aspects of my life as well.
As a people pleasing person, when I experience rejection of any sort it is tempting to hold the rejection close to my chest as something to be ashamed of, as a failure. But there is no shame in my one poem not being the right fit for one magazine. And there is no shame in not being the perfect fit for all the needs of all the people in my life. Shame over failures real and imagined will only keep me from the life I want to live.
Like so many of the writers I admire, I will be framing my first rejection letter and hanging it on the wall of my studio as my initiation into a community of writers brave enough to release their word-babies out into the world to be rejected or accepted by complete strangers. And when I begin to feel the urge to rearrange myself into what I am not in an attempt to suit the whims of someone else, I hope that letter will remind me to be true to myself even if it means that I am not quite the right fit for the person in question. After all, as the editors at The Sun freely admit, what appeals to each of us is mysterious and not easily explained.