by Erika Dreifus
One morning not so very long ago, while I sat at my desk surrounded by manuscripts waiting to be paper-clipped together and slipped into envelopes for mailing to various literary magazines and journals and contests, and by shelves filled with binders bursting with copies of query letters and cover letters and submissions, I realized I couldn’t quite deny the sense that in some ways I had fallen into a field for which I’m utterly unsuited. Because, from earliest childhood, I’ve hated to wait. And I’ve hated rejection.
We all accept certain basic time gaps involved in the writing process. We know to set a draft aside for awhile before returning to revise it. We learn (if we’re lucky, not necessarily by direct experience) that editors don’t appreciate being asked the status of a submission a mere day or two after they receive it.
But as writers we also encounter something quite different, connected all too frequently with flat-out rejection. For we may wait (and not impossibly, up to a year, or even longer: just check the response statistics compiled at one website, Duotrope’s Digest), so that our manuscripts may be rejected by the editors of journals and magazines. By agents. By publishers. By those who judge contests and fellowships.
Further, rejection these days is even less controlled than it used to be. Once upon a time I had to wait for the letter carrier to bring those dismissals to my doorstep. So in the early mornings and late evenings, and on Sundays, and on federal holidays, I was safe.
No longer. Thanks to the Internet, rejections can arrive any day, any time. Now they ping their way into my inbox near midnight midweek, and on Sunday afternoons, and even on holidays.
But here’s the amazing part: Even I can find some bright spots. I’ve learned that a steady diet of waiting and rejection makes one savor all the more not only the acceptances and publications, but also the occasions when timely, polite, and even friendly responses arrive. Often I find myself celebrating, even reveling in those “passes” that include just a few personal words of explanation and encouragement. And over time I’ve actually received a few compliments from those close enough to me to observe a notable increase in my resilience in the face of rejection, as well as a discernable development in my patience quotient.
Has my skin thickened? I think so. But I knew that morning sitting among my envelopes and binders–as I understood nearing the end of this essay and thinking ahead to mailing it out for consideration, that to be certain, I’ll have to wait and see.
(Author’s Note: In this case, my patience and resilience paid off, and a version of this essay appeared in the July 2007 issue of ByLine magazine.)