Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Monday angst--the aftermath

Last night was rough. I got the Morton prize rejection and didn't make it even into the semifinals (again) and it's so hard to keep up hope. Rejection is not a new thing to me and I know that it comes with the territory, but...

Then they included reader comments, and a couple of them really cut me to the quick—they were general, and they were presented as blanket statements, which made it easy to assume that if my manuscript didn't make it into the list, it fit their statements. Reading them over this morning, it mostly wasn't so bad, except a still of them are still perturbing—a reference to "two styles most prevalent…a tired, almost stubborn adherence to narrative, and an airy, ironic detachment, with a fleeting interest in any particular subject matter." Ouch.

Then: "favorite manuscripts were capable of both play and insight, humor and strong emotion—preferably at the same time." Of course. But I thought that my manuscript was doing that—okay, maybe not at the same time.

I'm trying to remind myself that I don't have to go back and rip my manuscript apart based on these general comments about a plethora of work, perhaps none of it mine. Maybe because I have a stressful week at work, or maybe because I haven't been sleeping—I don't know why, but this rejection felt like a punch in the gut. My skin is still thin this morning. And take a deep breath.

I also was inspired on Sunday to apply for the Artist Trust Fellowship, and five days is not a lot of time to prepare a coherent application. Not a lot of time at all. I have ideas, but I don't know whether I can pull them into something thoughtful and professional by Friday. Would it be better to skip it and concentrate on my reading Thursday night? But the more I think about it, the more ideas I get. That's a good thing.

Everyone encounters rejection—and stress—sometime, somewhere. How do you meet it?


Kells said...

Hi Joannie,

I should be getting my rejection for the Morton prize today if you rec'd yours yesterday. They leave readers comments--I'm not sure how I feel about this. I can see the benefit, at least they can spell out what wasn't working or was, at least for their own mind, but then there's the poet who may or may not agree with that.

Roethke always told his students not to criticize a style or technique of a poet because that could be his/her emerging style. I think in honest, we need to look at reader comments as "I did not connect to your work at this time in my life." It's not that a certain type of writing is bad or wrong, but as flawed humans sometimes we even don't connect with the best work.

The "airy" and "fleeting" sound like a pseudo-intellectual grad student trying to sound important.

Yesterday, I received a rejection from Cleveland and I was not a finalist. How do I go from being chosen from a group of 1300 as a finalist to not even being noticed in a group of 700? ;-) Art is subjective. Always remember that and you do not have to change who you are to please others, you just need to find the people who connect to your work. I'm one of them. There are others.

Somedays I'm good with rejection, some days not. Some days I'm not even good with being a finalist! (oh the insecurities that brings out in me.) Back and forth, emotional tsunami, for me, I say "oh well" and keep moving forward. I will not allow others to stop me. I need to be my own best friend in such cases as there are enough people to put us down, we need to be the ones who won't let us stop trying.

And I just submitting for the fellowship and it's so easy to do! I took forever to do it because I was stuck on my artist statement, however, my friend R decided yesterday she was going to apply and wrote up the best artist statement in a couple hours, and submitted! It will take you no more than 3-4 hours honestly. So good luck!

jeannine said...

Dear Joannie,
If it makes you feel any better, I went to the hospital (ongoing throat and ear infections have taken their toll on me) and then came home to three rejections: The Morton, The Cleveland, and one from Indiana Review. I was like, whew! I hope tomorrow is at least a little better day :)
Yes, you can't take those comments too seriously, Joannie. If an editor writes you personally to say some of that stuff, fine. But to blanket comments? Eh.

Joannie said...

Thank you both for sharing your stories and your support. I hugely appreciate it.

And Kells, thanks for your pep talk about the Artist Trust--and congratulations for getting your submission in. I worked on my statement some more tonight.

And Jeannine--rejections on top of throat and ear infections? That sucks!

Today, I came home to a rejection from Two Review, but it was of the nice, encouraging kind.

Kristin said...

I got a manuscript rejected with such a scathing rejection letter that I felt like never writing again.

One of my writing friends told me that I shouldn't give up on my manuscript that easily. She said that an extreme negative reaction, while not as wonderful as an extreme delighted reaction, means that the manuscript has something that touches people in a visceral way. She said an extreme negative reaction is far better than no reaction.

I've always thought there was wisdom to her words, even though the manuscript in question never did see publication.

So, try to ignore those negative comments. Or transform them: "My work so touched someone in some way that they felt moved to comment negatively. Maybe the next reader will have a more positive reaction."

Too Pollyanna-ish? Conversely, you could give yourself time to grieve the loss, but you could also set an end-date to the grieving time by sending the manuscript out into the world again.

I love your writing. Other people do too. And some day, a contest judge and/or a publisher will too.

Joannie said...

Kristin, thank you for your kind words and encouragement. I like your friend's advice.

I'm planning to send the manuscript out again today.