Monday, February 14, 2011

Rejection Notices

One of the recurring bits of advice from other writing teachers is to write with your students.  This appears to be true whether your writing students are 13-years-old or 63-years-old.  Anyone writing is taking a personal risk.  Once an instructor picks up the pen to write him/herself we begin to peel away the perception of judgment, or right and wrong.  We see each other as in this together.

I thought about this passage this weekend by Pat Schneider in Writing Alone and with others
Most of us begin our writing alone, somewhere in childhood or adolescence.  We come as students into classrooms with our hidden and continuing passion on pages tucked away just in case we might feel safe enough to show it to the powerful person who stands before us in school.  If we are among the blessed, that powerful person says yes to our effort, believes in us, and teaches us without breaking our spirit.  Blessed or not, everyone with even a modest education has experienced writing with others in a classroom.  Many come into the class clad in a solid suit of armor.  Teachers who still wear that armor--who are still afraid of writing--unconsciously teach that fear to their students. 
Back in November my creative writing classes took part in Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month).  All of them produced a piece of work which ranged from 5,000 words up to 35,000 words for a few.  One student asked, "Are you going to do it too?"

I used the question (and invitation) to pull out something I had been working on for the last two years and went at it hard through November and finished it.  I used December to edit it, and begin submitting it to agents over the holidays.

At the beginning of February my first rejection notices began rolling in:

Thank you so much for your query. Unfortunately, however, this project
doesn’t sound right for me.

Thank you for your query, which we have had the chance to review. Unfortunately, your project is not quite right for our list.  We have to be extremely selective about what we represent, and we're sorry this isn’t a match for us.

Rest assured that we do read every query letter carefully and, unfortunately, this project is not right for us.  Because this business is so subjective and opinions vary widely, we recommend that you pursue other agents. After all, it just takes one "yes" to find the right match.  

Essentially, agents have found polite ways to say "It's not you, it's me" to writers seeking representation and publication.  It is like dating all over again!  There are manuals written about finding the right  I read a tweet last night by an agent who suggested that most queries by aspiring writers only leads her to think of them (us?) as the horrid contestants who squawk into a microphone during the first weeks of American Idol--Think Randy Jackson, "Sorry, dog.  Not today." that me?

I'm taking any of the rejection slips which come in and I'm hanging them on my bulletin board next to my desk in my classroom.  Right now there are four.  I used to hang any articles about our high school football team on that bulletin board--I coached them, and put up the articles win or lose each season.  Fortunately for me (I guess) I experienced a few 1-9 seasons so the accumulation of agent and publisher rejection slips won't affect me much.  My students used to ask me why I hung up the articles reporting on the losses--how can you be proud of that???  I've learned enough to know that if you stick with something long enough you experience every kind of season--we had a couple of undefeated seasons (10-0) with that football team too...after the long climb out of the cellar.  You remember where you came from and you remember what it took to get there.  Since that climb out of the gutter the high school football team has never reverted back to 1-9 seasons...actually they win at least 7 games a season regularly.  A loss is more shocking than a win.  All along, the articles went up next to my desk win or lose...and any notices from agents and publishers will go up too--win or lose.

I'm hoping some of my students can take something from this.  It  may not exactly equal the same perseverance as Lincoln, but my heart is in the right place.


  1. Ah yes, rejections. Me? I'm papering a wall with them. No, not really, but I am collecting them in a organized three-ring binder. They still hurt, thick skin or not.


  2. I love this idea. Rejections take all forms and one of the things we need to learn is how to deal with them. You're not just modelling writing but how to deal with one facet of it.

    Writing rejections really aren't personal even though they can feel that way. I just tell myself (over and over!) that the publisher was looking for something else at that time.