Rejection hurts: being ignored, hurts more. Back when I was looking for a date I didn’t experience much rejection. You could interpret this as dating success. Not true.
In fact rejection was low because I limited invitations. It was me constantly reducing the risk of a negative response.
But the worst response was no response at all. Maintaining the see-saw of a positive outlook and dreadful doubt is enough to make you crazy: hoping because you know it could happen; bracing for disappointment, because you know it might not. On the rare instance that I ventured an invitation and got acceptance it took a moment to process. Most times I couldn’t believe the positive answer.
This—in some way—is writing.
On occasion an editor will look up from his pile of manuscripts, long after the front door is locked, eyes bleary, hair rumpled and acknowledge you with a “not for us, at least not now.” This is like licking up a morsel flicked from the editor’s table to us working writer dogs. We are grateful, but starving; savouring the morsel, but desiring so much more. Sometimes you get a second tastier morsel. One that says, “tighten this up in the middle,” or, “try a different approach,” or, “this might work for Suzy, why don’t you give her a call.” Like I said, it’s like asking for a date.
You tighten up the middle to a sculpted six-pack on which you could crack an egg.
You consider multiple approaches, select one and rewrite. You pull college acquaintances Harbrace and Roget off the shelf to check your grammar and hunt for a muscular word. You notice the cover of the first is rusty orange, wasn’t it red when purchased? You notice Roget now has fine white lines like concentric topographic elevations on a map. You check your hair in the mirror, breathe deep, exhale slowly, and give Suzy a call.
Sometime later you get, “sure, we’ll publish this.” You interpret this short message as: “don’t be ridiculous, without question we will publish your piece. Where have you been hiding all my editorial life?” Your first instinct is to say “what?” Initially stunned, then profoundly grateful, you are eventually excited. Time ticks on. Memory of the conversation becomes hazy. You start to worry. Were they serious? Will the editor twist the original intent to unrecognizable? Will you have to wait a year to get space to publish? Will they spell your name right? Will they even use your name? Finally these questions fade, replaced with patience and a dull ache while you consider your next date.
A few weeks later copies of your article arrive, extracted from the postman’s bag, and placed in your empty mailbox. With all of the excitement of childhood Christmas you find your name in the table of contents—spelled correctly. Your finger traces the line under your name and stops at the page number listed. You turn to that page. Again your name is spelled correctly. You read the article like it was the first time you’ve seen it. They are all there—words you carpentered, shimmed, levelled, planed and polished into some kind of structure you could accept. You tried so hard not to use the mallet.
Then something magical happens. The editor calls you and asks for a date.
“Me?” you say. “Really?”