Friday, May 3, 2013


I got a rejection letter yesterday.

My proposal for the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention (NCTE 2013) was not accepted.

What do I do with that?

This has, indeed, been an affirming few months. I have had the privilege and opportunity to visit several university classrooms of friends to talk with their students about writing and have also presented or been invited to present at several local literacy conferences or summer leadership academies. 

In less than two weeks, on May 11,  I will be a participating author in The Ohioana Book Festival, which I have attended for a number of years  as a reader and book lover. This is the largest book event in the state of Ohio.

Visit me at Ohioana at Table 27. 
And check out  this session in which I am a panelist along with Robert Olmstead and P. Craig Russell : Mentors and Muses: Literary and Artistic Influences at 11:30 AM-12:15 PM,  Room 106)

But... I  have also received my share of rejections--generating reasons to use F words like flinching, floundering and failure.

My series of rejection letters received during this same time period provide a contrapuntal line to my triumphs and successes. They include rejections from three of my favorite literary journals--No, to your poems. Two non-acceptances for my manuscript- No, to your book of poetry.  (And of course, this flashes back and reminds me of the initial two rejections of my now-published book- No, to your professional book.)

Perhaps, I will someday publish a book of my rejection letters.

All of those letters that read:

We regret......... unfortunately.....can not accept....  your submission...your proposal..... many submissions...record number of proposals.. .blah blah blah...  thank you for your  efforts....please submit  again in the future... blah blah blah......  sincerely......

And now, a rejection of my proposal to present at what for me is one of  the largest and best conventions in  the education and writing field-- my favorite one. 

And the ironic counterpoint--- I was accepted and presented last year at this same conference (NCTE 2012). It was an exhilarating and successful  experience.  In fact, last year at this same conference, my  book was launched--complete with a book signing and a steady stream of folks in line.

So what do I do with this rejection letter?
How do I fit that in to my writing life?

It helps to know that I am not alone. Immediately after my bad news, I heard that a professor I hold in highest esteem was also not accepted to present at a different conference.. At a workshop years ago, my favorite poet, Nikki Giovanni, talked about the number of rejections she had received prior to publication.

We have all heard writers speak about the rejections of now bestselling and extremely popular books.  This list includes J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone), Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita), Stephenie Meyer(Twilight), and  George Orwell (Animal Farm).

Click here to read some of the harshest rejection letters received by famous writers.

Rejection, and the letters that announce it, are an undeniable, unavoidable part of the writing process for most writers.  I am a confirmed, card-carrying member of this large group of writers--elite and well-known--and ordinary and never-heard of.

 In his memoir, Wedlocked, Jay Ponteri writes about rejection or failure in two juxtaposed
arenas--his marriage and his early writings.

If we are realistic, we accept that nonacceptance is natural part of what we do.  Everyone will not like what we write and share or submit or propose.

If we accept that rejection letters are part of our portfolios and don't negate who we are or the work that we do, then we can have fun with rejection.

We can laugh at this specialized genre.

We can enjoy reading and interpreting the rejection letters that we receive. 

Seth Fried has written a humorous article, How to Interpret Your Rejection Letters on Tin House.  

We can also engage in comic relief by writing our own rejection letters.

The regularly featured  Reject-a-Hit column in Writer's Digest, in which an obviously successful, well-known literary hit is rejected in letter form, leads the way for us. You are invited to try your own hand at dealing out rejection in the related annual contest.

 Here are several of the most popular Reject-a-Hit letters:
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J. K. Rowling

And finally, you can play with rejection in game form.  Thanks again to Writer's Digest and Zachary Petit, you can enjoy a round of Rejection Letter Bingo (Writer's Digest March/April 2013)

I got a rejection letter today.

What else can I do with that?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Have you received rejection letters for your writing? 

Examine that letter(s) closely. 

Is there any valuable feedback or lesson which you can rescue from this disappointment to improve your writing?

Is there any humor you can liberate in the letter to use as inspiration for new  writing?

Write a reflection on the letter(s) you have received.  Is there a pattern?  Is there useful advice?


Select a  popular book for which to write your own humorous Reject- a Hit letter. 

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