Rejection’s Easy. What’s a Writer to Do With Acceptance?

A year ago the lovely and talented Lili Wright—author of Learning to Float, Depauw University rock star, and my nonfiction workshop prof in the Butler MFA program—made me better and then messed me up. On a sunny April afternoon, seated across from me at a bistro table outside the Butler bookstore, she challenged me to start submitting my work. “By July, send out three,” Lili said.

But where?*

“Clean up your senior photo story a little,” she said, “and I could see it in New York Times Lives.”

And so I did, only I didn’t wait until July, and I didn’t clean it up enough, evidently. When August rolled around with nary a word from New York, I started submitting that story and others to journals I dug. Thus began a comically robust collection of rejection notices in my inbox, which didn’t deter me, really. The rejections at first stung, but they made me write (and rewrite) harder and become ruthless with the use of Delete in my revisions.

Wait, that’s not entirely true. I do hold a new black belt in hacking down my stories, but the rejections kinda messed me up. But what messed me up more? The ACCEPTANCE email I received a week before my birthday. “Congratulations!” in my Inbox caused a nasty flare-up of neuroses.

After precisely fifteen minutes of eye-dabbing Sally Field gratitude, my inner Woody Allen got to work sabotaging my joy and minimizing my accomplishment. It’s not the New York Times, that SOB in my head said. They probably only had two writers submit for this issue. The editor must be overworked. Why else would she choose you for the showcase writer interview? She probably picked your name out of a hat. And those questions she asked, are you kidding me? Just try answering them with a straight face. You know what your peers and professors will say when they read it. You’re a fraud. You’re a hack.

Enter the gracious and brilliant Bryan Furuness, who shared the following wisdom:

Look: the writing life is a black sky of rejection, punctuated every few million light years by a tiny starpoint of success. In other words, the writing life is full of things that can make a body feel despair, so when you come across a moment that can actually make you feel joy and hope, your job is TO LET YOURSELF FEEL GOOD. Take the joy. Don’t qualify it, don’t ameliorate it, don’t yeah-but it. Take it. And fuck anyone who tries to take even a smidge of it away from you.

Take THAT, Woody Allen.

Bless you, Lili Wright, for pushing me out into open waters where I’d learn to float.

And curly-red Niya Sisk, thank you for giving my work a cozy home in Curly Red Stories.

“I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!”

*Where to submit? In the world of literary writing, Cosmo is no longer the goal, at least not for now. Mags like the Kenyon Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Hobart and The New Yorker are our holy grail. Heck, we’re thrilled with modern online-only journals like the spiffy Emprise Review [NO LONGER LIVE, ARG], as long as they’re literary. The only way to find the “where” is to read journals and submit your best work to the ones that publish stories that turn you on. Also helpful: wander the halls of Duotrope in search of a suitable home for your little short stories, lists, and essays.

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