Sunday, March 24, 2019

On Rejection

How does a working writer weather rejection, whether it is delivered as work declined or negative criticism?

The Steiny Road Poet offers a story which does not sufficiently cover everything asked but points at something that is possibly helpful.

The year Ronald Reagan was elected president of the United States, Steiny was working for the Department of Energy in the office of the Special Counsel Paul Bloom who had been tasked by Carter’s administration to audit the major petroleum producers to determine how much we consumers had been overcharged at the pump and in other petroleum markets. Being angry that no money had been returned to the public, Bloom decided to give $1000 each to four separate charities which in turn enraged Reagan’s people. So Steiny’s office was unilaterally handed reduction in force (RIF) notices, meaning she (and her colleagues) were fired.

When Steiny reached home that evening, her telephone rang and a voice on the other said, “Congratulations—you have won the Billee Murray Denny award. “Really?” Steiny responded in a weary somewhat skeptical voice. The man paused and then said in a rather disgusted angry way, “You aren’t even excited and you wouldn’t have won except one of the judges had just returned from Australia and your poem mentions Australia.”

So here’s a story of acceptance that turns into a rebuke. Did the Steiny Road Poet then doubt the worthiness of her poem, which by the way was titled, “Bearing Up”? No. The reason was that Steiny had previously sent this poem in an earlier version to a Virginia poetry society contest and they had generously given her feedback which she used to improve the poem.

The lesson learned that day may prove serendipitous but is possibly this—if you send out your work to be judged, be sure you have made every effort to make it your best.

One other tidbit of advice Steiny got from the multi-genre writer Richard Elman is this—not everyone can speak to what you are writing and therefore should not be listened to. More on this in another post.