Accepting Rejection

Now that I’ve re-committed myself to writing, I decided that I needed a goal, something tangible to work towards as I write. Therefore, I chose to keep submitting work until I get something published. In March, I sent out approximatley ten pieces for consideration, some of which will take months to finally get back to me. Some were for paying contests and others for magazines/journals that publish electronically, in print, or both. So far, in about thirty days, three of those submissions, all fiction, have come back rejected.

Naturally, my first thought was to feel sorry for myself. However, after reading an interesting article from Simon Haynes, author of the Hal Spacejock series, I felt a little better. (The article in question can be read here.)  According to him, there are levels of rejection ranging from “Holy crap, go learn grammar and spelling” to “This doesn’t fit what we’re looking for right now.” In essence, not all rejections are created equal. I decided to take my rejection letters and look at them individually to see where I fell on his pyramid of doom.

Rejection Letter #1–ASIM Magazine

(Story Submitted–“Thirteenth Colony”)

Thank you for submitting to Andromeda Spaceways. Sadly, we find that we can’t use your submission at this stage. Thank you again, and we hope to hear from you in the future. Notes from the readers—“I liked the theme, but it needs some development. Perhaps more about the twin sisters with the powers?”—Hope that’s of some help, and better luck next time!

Okay, judging by the feedback I got, which was actually somewhat personalized, I’m willing to bet I’m in the better half of the rejection pyramid. They liked the work and actually stated that the theme was good. They got the central commentary of the story I was trying to get across. They didn’t say it was “dull and derivative” or “poorly written.” They simply wanted to see more about the twin sisters with the powers. Perhaps I was over focused on the theme and the development of my main character, a man who is searching for redemption and finds it with the love of a Seminole woman. The power twins were actually created during my research of Seminole culture. They feared twins because they believed that if the two stayed together, they could control things like weather, people, or animals. Perhaps I could go back and redevelop this piece, putting more emphasis on the fantasy/sci-fi aspect of the work and submit it to another genre magazine like this one. Another piece I’ve written, one with more details that a fantasy/sci-fi reader is interested in, might even have been accepted. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

Rejection Letter #2–Slice Magazine

(Story Submitted–“House of Dreams”)

Thanks so much for giving us the opportunity to consider your work for Slice. Due to the high volume of submissions we receive, we regret that we aren’t able to respond to each submission personally. We’ve been thoroughly impressed by the quality of the work that we’ve received. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to include your piece in our next issue of Slice. We’d love to consider more of your work in the future, though, so please do continue submitting to us. —Best wishes, The Editors

I quote Dori from Finding Nemo when she’s attempting to translate whale—“This one’s a liiiittttlleee bit tougher.” Slice is a larger magazine, one published for a more broad based, artisitic market. I truthfully never expected to get in there at all, but the submission was closing soon and was free to do, so I took a crack at it. They admit to a higher volume of submissions, hence no personal feedback from their editors/readers. That’s typical from what I’ve experienced. However, this one has a light at the end of the tunnel according to Mr. Haynes–and maybe, just maybe, it isn’t a speeding train. They say they’ve “been thoroughly impressed by the quality of the work” they’ve read, which seems to say that there’s a lot of good work coming into them and that mine simply wasn’t fitting for their taste. Also, I have to consider the fact that this piece is one of my older ones and could probably benefit from further development and editing. Perhaps with a more solid story, I might have made it through to the next round.

They close with the nugget of text I like that says “We’d love to consider more of your work in the future, though.” My hope is that they have different form letters they send out to cover writers in all levels of the pyramid and that this, too, shows that I am in the top tier of it, mere inches away from that glorious golden pinnacle at the top. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it; perhaps they send this same letter to people like me who take the craft seriously and people writing Twilight fan fiction in which Jacob gets Bella and Edward glitters his way to a miserable death in the second book. I don’t know. Again, I’m hoping for the former.

Rejection Letter #3–Camera Obscura Journal

 (Story Submitted–“Put Out the Light”)

Thanks so much for letting us read your work. We do so appreciate your interest in the Camera Obscura Journal and that you chose to entrust your story with us. Unfortunately, this story was not chosen for publication. Given the number of submissions, we must decline many worthy stories. We wish you much success with your writing. Thanks again, The Editors

This one says much the same as the rejection letter for Slice Magazine, that I wasn’t selected in a rather generic kind of way. Again, the high number of submissions is mentioned as a cause for a lack of personal feedback, but I don’t get the same positive vibe off of this one as I did the previous one. Maybe it’s the “we decline many worthy stories” doesn’t sit as well with me, or perhaps the “We wish you much success with your writing” rings a little more hollow than the “We’d like to read more of your stuff in the future” did. I could be wrong on this, but I think this story scored the lowest of the three, which is ironic because it is the newest of the three rejected so far, the one most indicative of what I’m capable of as a writer. I actually like this one a great deal though it is rather sad in nature. Again, perhaps, I’m just guilty of sending the wrong kind of piece to the right place or vice versa. I’m still learning the ins and outs of the publishing game, and I have a feeling that with a bit more targeting, I can get something going this year.

I’d appreciate any thoughts or advice from other writers out there who either are in the same situation as I or who have made it to the top and have published something recently. Am I on track, or am I overthinking it? Please leave comments and let me know!

It’s the Write Thing to Do

I know times are tough and that everyone is going to have to tighten his or her financial belt a little in the coming years if our country is to remain solvent and prosperous. Therefore, as a fiscal conservative, I am normally all for the cutting of programs that are wasteful and produce nothing beneficial for the country, and I’ll be the first to admit there are arts based programs out there that are either wasteful or, in the case of PBS and NPR, are profit-making entities that no longer need our tax dollars to thrive. The National Writing Project, however, is not one of those. I attended this summer institute in 2001 when I was a first year teacher with a head full of ideas and a zen passion for writing and reading, and I later returned as a presenter, a technology liaison, and a writing group leader. Performing all those functions, I was able to put the lessons I’d learned after another year of teaching back into the program in order to help teachers both newer and younger than myself grow in the profession.

The Blackwater Writing Project, the branch I worked with, was amazingly responsible with its funding and found ways to save money and use it effectively at all points during the summer institutes. This is the kind of behavior that should be rewarded rather than slated for the chopping block like all other wasteful programs. Also, unlike so many programs funded by tax dollars, the NWP actually provided results for teachers and their students. It encouraged writing across the disciplines and allowed writing teachers the chance to directly instruct those who are experts in science, math, history, and other fields on the best methods for including writing in their classrooms. Rather than generic lessons given by a state or federal training program, teachers who wanted to do a better job in their classrooms were given specific instruction from teachers who had tried new techniques in classrooms much like theirs. The instruction was targeted and practical, and after a two-week period in the NWP, many “non-English” teachers have begun to utilize writing and enhance student learning with it.

I recently found an op-ed piece by Dana Giola at the Boston Globe regarding the importance of reading and writing and its decline in the teenage population of this country. She touches on several key benefits of literacy and writing including increased problem solving skills, increased creativity, and even increased social and civic awareness and participation. It seems obvious, therefore, that students must be told about the importance of reading and writing to their overall education, but without programs like the NWP, teachers will be ill-equipped to show students just how essential and beneficial both truly are. If we have a passion for it, it comes through in what we do. Students see it, and whether or not they admit to this truth, they respond to it. The NWP helps teachers gain that confidence and joy that is needed to motivate students in this new electronic age, and, for that reason alone, it should be given continued funding.

On a personal note, the first summer I spent in the NWP sparked a fire for creative writing in my life. Because of the support and guidance I received from amazing teachers like Dr. Donna Sewell, Dr. Chere Peguesse, and Mr. Adam Hathaway of the Blackwater Writing Project, I began to write, and I have continued to progress in that area ever since. I am now currently working on a novel of my own, I teach creative writing classes to students and adults in my area, and I participate in online writing groups such as The Herscher Project, a group of fellow scribblers from around the world who support one another in their literary and artistic endeavors. I might never have known that part of me was there had it not been for the Blackwater Writing Project at Valdosta State University.

In short, I am a firm believer in accountability, and I’ll be the first to run through the 2011 federal budget with a machete in an attempt to bring our country back to financial solvency. However, to say that all of the programs out there that relate to the arts or eduction need to be cut is not the best way to spend our money wisely. The National Writing Project, and several other programs like it, deserve continued funding and support from communities and the government in order to continue preparing teachers, those people on the front lines who have the best chance of creating productive and thoughtful citizens for the future.