Monday, November 17, 2014


For me, the most striking moment during the "Writing and Publishing Your First Book" panel was when Julie Marie Wade talked about her Tupperware boxes of rejections. She said the acceptance letters filled a modest box she could keep on her desk, while the rejections were stacked from floor to ceiling in one of her closets.

I love that image.

Not because I love to think of Julie Marie Wade being rejected (I'm sure I don't have to tell you what a phenomenal writer she is), but because it makes real for me one of the most worrisome/mundane aspects of being a writer. Funny, isn't it? How much terror and despair are both intense and boring, a sharp sting and an unfocused, dazed stare. Rejections. Yes, I have a lot of them. Many, many more than acceptances.

Jaswinder Bolina said something that also stuck with me. He said you have to figure out what success means for you. That when you write to someone else's ideas of success, you betray yourself. And that can never actually be success.

And Jamie Poissant's comments about his manuscript and the rounds it had to make before finally being accepted encouraged me.

Basically, it was a wonderful evening and I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did. It left me thinking about my own work. My own feelings about this stuff.

Look, the thing is, I have these two manuscripts, right? One is a collection of mostly experimental short stories, and one is a hybrid text of poetry and art, and I've been working on them for five and two years respectively. In the meantime, I've also managed to rack up over six pages of Submittable rejections (each page has like 40 submissions). Okay, so eleven of those are acceptances, and something like 10 are listed as "in progress," but still. The vast majority (as vast as is the night sky) are denials.


And! Julie Marie Wade said she gets something like 200 rejections a year. Which, okay, so I'm only talking Submittable, which means I have other rejections/acceptances, but not that many. I need to up my game. Anyway.

These rejections are my virtual closet full of boxes containing the evidence that my work wasn't right for whichever publication I sent it to; that they, in fact, did not want it, and I will tell you this - it's hard not to make the jump to they, in fact, did not want me.

The thing is though - that voice that whispers to you that you're not good enough? That says each rejection is just more proof that you will never be a "real" (whatever that is) writer? That voice is bullshit. It is! It takes years to hone your craft. Our crafts. And we'll see each other struggle, succeed, and fail and fail and fail. It's our job as writers (and especially as a part of a writing community) to find joy for other's successes and sorrow for their failures. This will help us deal with our own rejections and successes. Because success is sweet, but it is a short-lived sweetness, lemme tell you. It's like Juicy Fruit Gum™.

So, listen. Your peers - their success and failures - they cannot diminish you. Or me. Or us. They can only make us better. Each piece, like each writer, its own interconnected ecosystem. I mean, and this is totally Donne, but. Well. Wait. It's worth a reminder. Here is John Donne:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 
own were; any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Your friends' successes are your own. As are their failures. And that can make a closet full of rejection letters feel more like a wardrobe into a whole other world.

MR Sheffield is an alumna of FAU's Creative Writing MFA program as well as the graduate advisor for English. Her work has been published or is forthcoming from Pank, The Florida Review, Fiction Southeast, and other publications. Email her ( with all your advising questions.

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