Recently, I submitted an essay to a Toronto newspaper. Imagine my shock when my inbox registered one new email from an editor Saturday morning.
Shock, which led to cold sweat, which led to trembling hands that hovered above the keyboard and…quickly shut down the computer. I scurried out of the room like a frightened skunk (without the odoriferous trail, thank you. I wasn’t that scared). Throughout the day, I found myself staring at the unopened message that lurked in my inbox. “I will open it in the morning when I’m feeling stronger/better/more caffeinated/alone in the house so no one can hear my wails or see me take a long pull from the vodka bottle…” I said to myself.
I pondered telling my husband but knew he would chide me for being so silly. So I told the cat. She rolled her eyes and turned her back on me, thus confirming that she believes all humans to be weak and inferior. This is a kitten who charges at things she’s scared of. Maybe I should be more like her.
Every time I get a notification from a literary magazine or an editor, I freeze. Picture a small, helpless animal in the headlights of a car. After thawing myself, I walk around the house for hours muttering and chiding myself for walking around the house muttering. What are you scared of? I ask myself. Rejection. Rejection, resmeckshun, I say to the scared, frozen part of me. So what! To steel myself, I convince me that the email is without question a big old fat jeering leering rejection. My clever little mind imagines it to be a paragraph of cruel, cold, cutting remarks about the truly pedestrian, flatline-inducing banality of my essay.
The object of this exercise, as many of my fellow writers might know, is to make the usual flat, one-sentence rejection (Thank you for your submission but it isn’t what we’re looking for) less devastating, less whimper-inducing. Preparation is nine-tenths of the battle, I say to myself.
My success rate with this home-brewed reverse psychology is spotty at best. I very nearly always whimper.
Fear of rejection is the single tallest impediment to a writer’s forward momentum and possible success. For years, I wrote volumes without submitting it to anyone, anywhere. Once I tentatively began submitting, I experienced rejection just like everyone else does and I survived. Yet, every time I am faced with an unopened email, I do battle with myself again. I tell myself, “Hey you survived the last rejection! You lived to write again.” Then, a very small voice squeaks out some truly terrifying words: “Maybe it’s not a rejection?” Dear God, who had the nerve to say that?
I opened the email from the editor at The Star, with my son standing next to me, holding my hand. It said (and I quote): “Thanks. I will read and get back to you.” Nothing scary about that. The cat rolled her eyes and left the room. I exhaled.