Monday, May 2, 2011

Nice Notes of Rejection: Tiny Lights

Recently I got a SASE in the mail from Tiny Lights: A Journal of Personal Narrative. I knew what it was: a rejection slip and return of my submission to a local flash prose contest I'd entered in February. But instead of the disappointment and dread that can accompany such self-addressed envelopes penned in my own handwriting (always a bit odd, as if I'm the one delivering the bad news to myself), I opened this one with eager anticipation.


The reason?

I knew that, according to contest guidelines, one of the judges might offer written comments on my manuscript. Being in an MFA program, I've become accustomed to receiving feedback on my work. The praise always boosters confidence, but hearing from readers about what isn't working helps me see where the work needs to go. Affecting our audience is, after all, a big part of the reason we're writing. 

As the editor, Susan Bono, writes on the Tiny Lights website: "You never know what an editor really thinks about your work." In this case, I did! And it was awfully sweet.

I wasn't a prize winner, a finalist or an honorable mention. I didn't even make the lengthy list of "entries of note." But I did receive the kindest rejection (form) letter possible, along with some great personal feedback from Bono herself:


 "Even though I would rather consider first person, I really liked this one! I noted the few places I stumbled a bit in my enjoyment. You could and should try other flash venues with this one--it's really good!" 
Then, within the text, she noted a couple of things:
1) where I'd switched points of view (something not at all obvious to me until pointed to)
2) where it "isn't clear what's going on here. There seems to be no reaction [from the narrator/character]." Since that's something I keep hearing in my workshops--where is the narrator's (i.e. my) emotional/intellectual response to events?--I know it's something to pay attention to in my writing.

I'm thankful to Bono for the encouragement, as well as such helpful remarks for consideration in revising the piece. And, yes, I will consider other flash venues to submit it to. As she says in her Thoughts on Rejection, "good writing comes from your willingness to be vulnerable, to peel back the layers of resistance, to offer up your heart, pulsing and defenseless, on a silver platter."

Usually I prefer online submissions, especially with longer manuscripts. But I was quite happy to send my 2-page snail mail to this cool little local literary journal, for I was also quite taken with Bono's justification of a paper trail:
"Until we learn to enjoy scrolling through hundreds of essays on computer screens, you'll just have to put up with us sprawling on couches and beds, sitting at the kitchen table or in a sunny window or a rocking chair or a dentist's waiting room, reading every single word you send us. We're old-fashioned enough to believe that's important."
Being a non-techie old-fashioned gal myself, I appreciate the tangibility of paper, pencils and pens.

A final note on rejection, from the green page before me:

"Challenges always present themselves in any creative undertaking, but you'll never get far if you let doubt rule you... the extra effort you put into your work still shines forth. You are a writer."

P.S. The (revised) piece I submitted, "Shasta in Stanzas," is published in Impact: An Anthology of Short Memoirs, by Telling Our Stories Press. Available July 1, 2012 as e-book or paperback.

5 comments:

rosaria said...

Nicole, this is precious! The editor's comments, your reaction, the overall message to all your readers and to yourself.
Thank you so much for this!
I'm encouraged just reading the post.

Now, if I could get this much feedback, I too wouldn't mind getting rejection letters.

Becca Lawton said...

Yes . . . Susan is a national treasure!

vicki18 said...

Nicole: how well-put! I'm reading The Happiness Project, by a witty, extremely well-read, honest and talented writer. She describes an instance in which her book was reviewed negatively, which devastated her. As she reflected on her goal of becoming happy, however, she did the opposite of what she felt like doing and wrote a lovely thank-you letter to the reviewer. She made a friend, felt "happy," and learned to deal with rejection. Her book is a bit 12-step-ish, but I'm enjoying it. She is working very, very, very hard at this Happiness Project! And of course the book was published.

Tani said...

I think we learn to be rejected early in our life but the most difficult thing is to learn to get over it. Congrats you've got a master degree on it. Hahaha

Nicole R. Zimmerman said...

Editor Susan Bono emailed a response: "THANK YOU SO MUCH for seeing so deeply into my heart—at least on my good days. Things like this really do help keep me going." The feeling is mutual.

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