A Good Kind of Rejection

A friend and I are going chapter by chapter through the book It’s Not Your Money by Tosha Silver. We had both read it before, but not one chapter a week as the author suggests. There’s a very important section in the book where the author talks about getting rid of clutter. Casting out the old to make room for the new. Tosha implied that by the time we finished the chapter, we’d know exactly where to begin. The first time I read the book, the words “business cards” popped into my head for no apparent reason.

I immediately opened a drawer and pulled out an enormous envelope and two binders full of business cards I’d collected over 30 years. Many were wrapped in rubber bands and labeled according to the events at which I’d gathered them. I started removing rubber bands and throwing each pile into my recycling box, and as I did, I felt lighter and lighter and then downright giddy. When I was done, I danced my little box upstairs and dumped it into my big recycling bin, grinning as those cards fanned out across the can in a rainbow of colors. I closed the lid behind me.

See, those cards had been weighing on me in all kinds of ways. Serving as a reminder of people I should have contacted and never did, and people I did connect with but the communication didn’t go well, and people who never contacted me back, and people I don’t even recall in the slightest. The fact is, in this day and age the people with whom I share a real relationship are all stored in my e-mail and the ones with whom I might want to connect in the future all have websites or Facebook pages I can find easily.

This week, as I went through the book again, I was inspired to open a filing drawer I rarely open. In it, I found a hanging file of very old rejection letters from the literary and commercial magazines, agents and editors I queried in the early days of my career. I had thought all of my rejection letters were stored in a shoebox that I take with me to school visits as a prop to show kids why we never give up. But here were more.

Many of my friends have never saved their rejection letters. They throw them away or, more dramatically, set them on fire. But I’ve always kept mine. I think the historian in me wanted a physical record of how long and hard I’d worked (or how long any writer works) to achieve each publication. There are well over 300 rejection letters in my box.

In the hanging file I found plenty of form rejections typed, insultingly, on tiny slips of paper. But I also found handwritten comments like this from the editors: “Not a bad story at all; a sharp essay; this was a delight to read.” And my favorite: “Absolutely gorgeous writing, each element masterfully placed.”

Many of the rejections included the invitation: “please send us another story.”

Reading them, I was awash with gratitude for the time it took those editors to scrawl those few words to me, knowing if they hadn’t, I might have given up on my dream. It sucked to get several of those letters a week back then, but those words of encouragement on the “good rejections” kept me going. And eventually, the acceptance letters started arriving too, along with the good reviews.

I decided, though, that a shoebox full of rejections is enough, so I threw away many of the form letters. It felt a bit like throwing away a part of my history, but it was a part that no longer really serves me. I’ve moved beyond that stage now.

I don’t think I could have done this “decluttering” six months ago. I wasn’t ready yet to let go of things I’d for so long held dear, things I’d long thought of as essential. I wasn’t ready yet to let go of the story I’d told myself about who I am, or to admit that it’s okay to move on. But I’m ready now to make room for whatever is coming next, for this next phase in my journey. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed “cleaning up” more.

Give it a try. Start small. A simple drawer or box will work. Or condense the items in two drawers into one, leaving one empty drawer beckoning; an invitation for what’s to come.

By Teresa R. Funke

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