I’ve been cleaning my office and today, in the file cabinet, I found a rejection letter from a literary journal dated October 17, 1992. The message is two lines, the standard thanks-but-no-thanks. After these two printed lines, though, is a handwritten note that runs all the way down to the bottom of the 8×11 page.
I can’t read this longhand now and can’t remember how much of it I was able to make out when it arrived in my mailbox almost twenty years ago. Sure, a few words are legible – character, timing, the odd pronoun – but nothing I can make out gives me a clear idea as to why my story was rejected, nor is there anything to suggest which story of mine the note refers to. Apparently, when I stashed the letter away it didn’t seem important to note details. Probably, I couldn’t imagine ever being able to put the title of the story that provoked this rejection out of my mind.
Now I’m stuck with a mystery. I suppose if I were to take a magnifying glass to the handwriting I could discern a few more words, and if I managed to find some of my old short fiction in the back of the file cabinet, I’d be able to match this rejection to the appropriate story and maybe even figure out what about character and timing led to this thumbs down.
But this office needs a serious spring clean. I feed the rejection to the shredder.
Some writers tape their rejection slips to the wall, some glue them into scrapbooks and some burn them. I know of one writer who keeps a spike on her desk just so she can impale her rejections upon it. Ritual probably takes the sting away. I don’t need ceremony but as I stare down at the jumble of paper ribbons in the bottom of the waste bin, I think perhaps I should have saved this particular rejection. Because here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter what that reader said, the point is that my story interested her (him?) enough to write a page-long note.
And these days, any kind of hard copy rejection is increasingly rare (as are, thankfully, requirements for hard copy submissions). So, I’ve decided that the next handwritten note from an editor I find gets put into a folder labeled Rejections Worth Saving. To be found twenty years from now when I do my next spring cleaning.
Care to share what you do with your own rejections? I’d love to hear it.
Meanwhile, if you’re in the mood to read other people’s rejections, check out literaryrejectionsondisplay.