Though there is a whole blog that covers this subject exceedingly well, maybe it's time to bring up rejection over here in our neighborhood, especially after LROD's latest post: the Virginia Quarterly Review thought it would be entertaining to put on their website some comments from readers of rejected submissions. Yep. Just what all of us rejected writers (and what writer has never been rejected?) has always suspected: those literary magazines are laughing at us.
Oh, well. If you're going to do something like write stories and send them to strangers, you have to grow yourself a big ass suit of armor. When I was a kid and realized that I wanted to be a writer, and I read all those how-to books, I thought the wall covered with rejections slips was terribly romantic. I couldn't wait to start working on my wallpaper of failure. Man, I collected so many. So many that I developed a Keno-machine type relationship with my mailbox: surely this time would bring the payoff, if not the jackpot (acceptance) maybe enough of a win to keep me pumping in my nickels (handwritten comment at bottom of rejection).
After I'd sold a story or two, and was still raking in bushel-baskets of rejections, my rejection collection began to make me feel queasy. Somehow, the tiny (very tiny!) bit of success I'd had made rejection harder to take. Before, it had been a game, very much like gambling: nothing to lose! Once I'd published some stories, I lost my bravado. It did matter, now. Collecting rejections ceased to be fun, and I more or less quit sending stories to magazines.
Hey, who am I kidding? I know exactly why rejection got harder. Before, when I was unpublished, all those anonymous editors who didn't like my stuff were just idiots, just didn't recognize my wonderfulness. Once one or two of them liked me, I had to stop thinking they were all idiots, didn't I?
Anyway, you can see where this is going. The rejection/acceptance tension is what makes writing such a thrilling career, but also an awful, nauseating one. You put your best self, your most true and honest stuff, out there for people to pick over, pick apart, and, for the most part, toss aside. If you'd crocheted yourself a butt-ugly hat, you wouldn't get snarky editors somewhere saying about it: "barf-o." Writing -- fiction, or freelance -- is just a weird job. (Though visual artists tell me that they have it much worse: they have to stand there in their best clothes at the gallery opening and listen to this stuff in person.)
And here's something else: if you're really successful at emotionally disengaging from rejection, you might suddenly find that you're disengaged from acceptance, too. That's probably the best place to be, just focussed on the work, and not caring so much about its worldly status.
But if you're a writer, and not just a diarist, you want to connect. It does matter if you publish or not. You have to let it matter enough, but not too much. Some of us are better at this balancing act than others.