Yesterday brought a new rejection letter to my door. It arrived, as do they all, in a white business envelope self-addressed some months before. The rejection was of the paper-saving variety favored by today’s quarterlies, a Xeroxed quarter-page containing a terse, pre-printed message amounting to: “Nope, not this time and probably not ever.”
The submission in question was an essay that took me a year to write, which shaped up to be a learned, provocative, and personal exploration of a subject in which I hold established credentials (the long, humbling writing process allows me to say so without delusion or inordinate pride). Upon its completion, I prepared submissions and dispatched them to the mail with the warming prophetic tingle that often accompanies work well done: this thing was bound to see publication someplace worthy of it, i.e., one of our more distinguished literary magazines.
The first several rejections rolled in, each accompanied by a personal note from an editor complimenting the essay and then professing equal remorse for refusing it. I sealed, stamped, and mailed further submissions.
Ambivalent editorial compliments answered almost every one. So I revisited the work, scrutinizing it for defects, poised to improve it. But without complacency, without smugness, I was simply reaffirmed of its readiness for publication, its power. I just liked it. Naturally, we are all capable of self-deception and must guard against it always. But whether you’ve “workshopped” a piece in the traditional writing program sense or run it past your merciless inner editor ad nauseum, the beauty — and curse — of an inescapably solitary discipline like writing is that, in the end, you must rely on your gut. How crucial, how arduous it is to tone the muscle of critical discrimination till you may stand firm and believe in the worth of what you’ve produced without being hardheaded or willfully blind. To strike that precarious balance is a talent useful in all aspects of life; it’s the trait we often refer to as faith or trust — and occasionally love.