Oh to be on Facebook, now that OH is here! This is a conversation we had just now about a new pair of glasses:
OH: Just now I thought my glasses weren’t right, but it was only my eyes doing their thing.
Me: What thing?
OH: In bed at night I close one eye when I use the tablet and I think it’s messing with my Nucleus of Edinger-Westphal.
Me: I think I went there once on holiday.
OH: I’ve mentioned it before. I want to know the peak sensitivity wavelength for rod cells.
Me: Sure; who doesn’t?
That’s the sort of dialogue I usually put on Facebook but now I’m off Facebook for good, or at least until it improves beyond recognition. In theory I could log in and put up my dialogue and log out again – but would that really be the end of it? Wouldn’t I go back an a couple of hours to see who’s ‘liked’ or commented? Wouldn’t I respond to some of those comments? Wouldn’t those commenters respond to my responses? Wouldn’t I do a bit of scrolling in between? And then boom! before you know it, you’re back on Facebook.
Nope: amusing and geeky dialogues will have to remain on this blog. Anyway, back to today’s topic of rejections. I had one just this morning as it happens; a poetry collection I’d entered for a competition which wasn’t shortlisted. The first reaction is like a thump in the chest; the feeling that, as Pooh bear puts it: ‘A Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it’ – or, to translate that into author-speak, you sweat and polish and rub and grind to make your work the best it can be, send it out into the world to seek its fortune and back it comes, rubber-stamped with the words NO THANKS in large unfriendly letters.
Actually today’s rejection was terribly nice and appreciative but it doesn’t matter how much they sugar-coat it, a rejection is a rejection.
So what do you make of it? I go through a process each time which is not unlike the stages of grief. First, there’s pain. There’s no avoiding this and sometimes it hurts a lot, especially if you had a lot invested in the work; but it does get easier with time. The second stage can be anger, though I’ve managed to bypass this as the urge to write to the publishers telling them where to get off is not one that should be indulged. So we blow past anger and land on wondering. Why? Why didn’t they want to publish my work? Are they blind? You rarely get a clue as to why your work has been rejected and being so much in the dark can lead to stage three: paranoia. Am I really as good as I think? Should I give this up? Am I ever going to get anywhere? Will anyone ever appreciate me? This stage is not very productive and, like anger, should not be indulged for long: I got a few words of encouragement from OH once he got back from visiting the Islets of Langerhans or wherever he went – and in time the feelings fade. So those are the stages of rejection-grief, after which you’re ready to pick up your mouse and carry on.
The good news is that the cycle shortens each time: having seen the rejection email twenty minutes ago I’m already into phase four, a process which used to take weeks. Phase four is What Now? where you’re able to consider more dispassionately what your next move should be. For me there’s only one answer to this question and that is to carry on working and make it better. Don’t go back to the rejected work just yet; put it on one side, and focus on something else to send off.
So, in conclusion (and here’s where I get all upbeat and American) I love rejections because without them I’d never have tried harder. I’d never have rewritten things and made them better. It’s probably not an overstatement to say that without rejections I’d never have fulfilled my potential (not that I have, yet; I’m still in the process.) So in the end that’s what I take from it: those poems will be honed and improved until they are the best they can be and then they will be published. So there.