The Weight of Rejection Letters and other problems
Perhaps like no other form of storytelling, truth telling, writing is the one form where you are forced to face your work, forced to take ownership of it. In the creation and crafting of your narratives, your worlds, your work; you, the writer, are forced to own it all. Enter the competitions, often run by literary magazines which will judge the quality of your writing against several other thousand writers whom you can only hope are only your equal in talent and execution and what you have is a recipe for writers to measure their work by the amount of acceptance letters received per hour of slavish labor over countless drafts. And we do.
People who are not writers and even other writers tell us not to do this; not to tie our worth and the value of our work to the reception of others, but if you are supposed to be able to judge the difference between what is good and publishable work and writing that is not prepared to be published, then a continual cycle of rejection does nothing but tell us that our work is substandard. Writing in itself is a lonely endeavor, trying to come up with plots, characters, scenes, situations which are at once fresh and retain the ability to stay new to the reader upon inspection.
Invariably, for the writer, the measuring stick for our ability is the appraisal of our work by those who are supposed to know what “good” writing is. For better or for worse, this is what we do. And continually having your ability, your writing, put into question by way of rejection letters or even non responses to your inquiries will leave even the most chipper of writers in bit of a melancholy funk.
One potential solution is to diversify those who are reading work, having more eyes of color or women or LGBTQ eyes on work so that when those who fit those descriptions pass by the desk, their work and perspectives are not dismissed. Even this does not guarantee that particular narratives or functions of communicating ideas and themes are not discounted. As we all know, people who make up a certain community are not monolithic in thought, in examination or in appraisal. So what IS the solution?
I think that as a community of writers, editors, and other professionals who comprise the literary profession, there has to be an emphasis on individually reviewing work, even if that means an increase in turnaround time because of volume. If that is, the literary magazines are serious about improving the quality of both the writing they receive and the writers that they read. Otherwise the tendency to attach and measure worth by the reception and publication of work will remain and will serve to emotionally handicap the writers who are trying to get past the “emerging” stage and grow into something greater.