The Petite Grief of Rejection Emails

Yet another rejection email has hit my inbox. Yet another chip has been eroded from my soul. I don’t know how rejections affect everyone else, but I assume it’s similar. There’s a level of deeply intimate, deeply personal critique in the sharp hidden edges of an email thanking me for my work, noting the large number of high quality entries, and wishing me luck elsewhere. Those words morph and reshape themselves into cheery proclamations of my fears.

Thanks for your work, but it’s garbage! Hooray!

We had so many high quality entries. Yours wasn’t one of them! Huzzah!

Good luck somewhere else, but definitely not here, sucker. Woohoo!

Regardless of how kind the editors are, regardless of how nicely the email is phrased, my first reading of a rejection email still looks like this:

I’m trying to be stoic about it, trying to put it in perspective — it’s not the right time for this work, it’s not the right publication for this work, the work just needs another set of keen eyes — but in the end, it’s hard to shake how I feel at the first glimpse of ‘Unfortunately…’.

Most of the ‘How to Deal with Rejection’ articles don’t help much either. They generally don’t mention the visceral impact of that rejection, focusing instead on moving forward, on looking to the future, on repeating the same platitudes like a mantra in the hope that if you throw enough positive affirmation spaghetti at a wall, some of it will stick. While a rejection of your work might not seem like the same level of hurt as a spurned declaration of your love, for those of us who grew up surrounded by messages that we could do anything we set our mind to, that we could achieve the same status in the workplace as men, that we could be the CEO or the Head of Department if we just threw ourselves into our work the way our mothers threw themselves into their marriages, it can feel the same. Or worse.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I should wallow in self-pity, or give up on dreams. I absolutely think that we should all learn to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and keep moving forward. After all, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (or Cognitive Behaviour Therapy — because who cares about consistency, right?) notes that changes in thought process lead to changes in behaviour. I mean, we teach children that resilience and fortitude are highly prized qualities. Surely, we should expect that in ourselves too? 

But I also don’t think we should be relentlessly cheerful. It’s not sustainable, for a start. And it doesn’t feel genuine or authentic. We weren’t made to be unwaveringly positive all the time. I think there is value in taking a minute, in acknowledging the petite grief that shadows those emails and letters. There is value in allowing ourselves to mourn before requiring ourselves to redraft, resubmit, re-enter the fray. 

All this to say that if you’re looking for me, I’ll be over here in my pyjamas, eating ice-cream, and thinking about giving up this writing lark while simultaneously enrolling for writing classes and mentoring sessions.

This post was written for the YeahWrite #458 Nonfiction grid. Click on the badge to read other entries.

5 Comments on “The Petite Grief of Rejection Emails”

  1. Asha, it’s precisely what I needed to read today! Thank you so much!
    Dealing with rejection has such a massive impact on the mind and the heart–more on the poor, fragile heart–it takes some time to get over the heartbreak. But as you say, as long as we get up, dust ourselves and keep moving, we will be fine. There will be moments when we would like to drown in our sorrows, but after sometime, we need to get back to our work and keep writing, for some day, we will win!

  2. I agree that we needn’t be relentlessly cheerful. Neither do we try to mask our pains with positivity while bleeding on the inside. It takes immense courage to learn to take rejection as it comes. In its full harsh, agonising reality, and choosing to make peace with it (in our own time and way).
    What really matters is that no matter how many rejections threaten to erode your creativity, you choose to rise after every fall.
    Keep going, Asha!

  3. Oh Asha, I feel this! When I manage a positive outlook on the work itself, I think there just are no paying publications that take my style of prose, so why bother? YW is such a happy little world to hide in. You may have noticed how much I hang out. But I have a few pieces out there. I tell myself, they’ll probably get rejected, but you never know.

    • I met with a writing mentor this week, Margaret, and she gave me some interesting things to think about in re rejection. She suggested looking at what rejection teaches us, and also that it was important to mourn rejections before moving on. The truly surprising thing she said to me was that sometimes that mourning looked like a month or more of being sad about a particular piece before she could come back and revise it. I felt like she’d given me permission to sulk for a minute, and that was such a relief!

  4. This is a path I have yet to tread. Were I to, your reactions would be mine. That chipping away at such self-confidence as you possess while plenty of pundits tell you ‘rejection is part of the process, embrace it!’. Hmm…

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