I woke up this morning to my alarm. I set my iPhone to use the “Alarm” sound to wake me up each day, and it sounds like a nuclear reactor is approaching critical mass each and every morning I get out of bed. Since I use my iPhone to wake myself up, I also make a cursory glance at any email which has come through while I slept. Most of the time it’s an iTunes alert, a Barnes and Noble coupon, or some various newsletter. But this morning was different–my iPhone told me that I had been rejected.
I had submitted a short story a month or so ago to a publication from Pseudopod.org. They are an audio magazine which focuses on horror and distributes through podcasts. To me, I saw a great opportunity, so I worked on editing and revising a short story I had written a while back for a contest. They also pay a flat $100 for any story they pick up. What did I have to lose?
I was sent this:
“Thank you for sending us [your story]. I’ve reviewed the story and decided not to purchase it. It didn’t grab me and and seemed unfocused. The main character does not have a conflict which motivates him and moves the story forward as much as he just has something happen to him, terrible as it may be, from which he cannot escape. Thanks for submitting, and I hope my comments have been at least a tiny bit helpful.”
And I smiled. Because I wasn’t selected. I have a graduate professor who says that he keeps a folder of all the rejection letters he gets from publications. Then he has a tendency to immediately repackage the exact same paper and send it to another publication where it will either get accepted or get him another letter to put in his folder. I have started to do the same thing wtih this one. Because eventually, this story will get published; it’s good. It just wasn’t right for this magazine. They want action-oriented plots with a clear purpose, and my entire purpose for writing this story was to be hazy, unfocused and somewhat dreamlike. I’m okay with that. This editor took the time to tell me WHY I wasn’t chosen instead of a blanket “we don’t want this.”
And that’s the entire point of writing. You find your place, and you write to the niche you’re in. If I ever get around to writing some of the more appropriate stuff for them, I will be sending it to Pseudopod.org first since they actually read my submission instead of immediately sending it to the slush pile. I respect that.
Part of being a professional writer is writing to a market. My rejection letter from Pseudopod.org is the first of many that I am sure to receive in my life, and I’m okay with that. I know that the most important part of writing is drafting and revising and writing to a specific purpose. I didn’t meet Pseudopod’s purpose, but I’m sure that I will meet someone else’s.
I used this as a lesson this morning for my students. Even an F on a paper is a reason to work harder, revise it, and learn from your mistakes as long as you’re given adequate feedback as to what needs to me worked on. The classroom is a microcosm of many different work atmospheres, and a low grade is just another way to look for ways to improve performance. They say practice makes perfect, but my theater director in college went a step further than that. He said that only perfect practice makes perfect. If you keep practicing while making the same mistakes, you’ll forever be caught in the same rut. He’s right. His advice is applicable to writing as well as theater as well as sports as well as business. I know that I need to fix this story for Pseudopod or find another market where it fits. And if I do the latter, then I will certainly be submitting something appropriate to Pseudopod.org at some point in the future.
So in the end, I woke up to a rejection email on my iPhone after being roused by a nuclear warning alarm, and I’m happy about it. I’m looking on the bright side and seeing this for what it really is: my first foray into doing what I want professionally. I was given tips and advice to help me as a writer instead of being told that my writing is bad or that I need to give it up completely. And that will always feel good. Maybe I’m doing something right.