Colorado State University Center for Literary Publishing

Learning from Rejection: Confessions of a Lit Journal Intern

Oct 07, 2016

By Yash Seyedbagheri, Colorado Review Associate Editor

When you envision stories being rejected at a literary journal, you might imagine a group of men and women in trench coats and fedoras, sitting around rejecting people with a certain glee, tossing manuscripts into the garbage can as they laugh jovially. And the fact is that isn’t true, as much as it would fit my overly imaginative mind. Admittedly, I do find the rejections fascinating, but rather as a means of learning for myself. They shine a spotlight upon me as a writer. By reading story after story on Wednesday afternoons, I am exposed to writing from all over the world. They come from unseen people, from all strata of life, from very different places in their writing journeys.

Actually, there are stories so far out there that they involve elves or vampires, but for the most part they’re stories that try to dig into the human condition, stories that convey people grappling with the turmoil of love and loss and relocation and everything else under the sun and moon. And the bulk wield potential, even as I have to send out rejection slips and notices. Perhaps the author sent out the piece in a rush, excited by having put together a draft on the page, and left out a myriad of important information. Character development. Backstory. What-have-you. I can sympathize with that. I’m very much guilty on that account. I need to submit. Some people are addicted to gambling; I’m addicted to submission. I see it as a Romantic process.

Perhaps the dialogue just isn’t working. I’ve read many a story where the dialogue seems to be too literal. There’s no subtext. Or it seems to be ripped out of a TV show—another issue I have with my own work. In fact, I’ve been in the program for a year now, and at times I feel like I haven’t gotten to the point where my dialogue has taken flight. It’s still pompous, a neon arrow advertising people’s feelings, telling readers what to think. It doesn’t feel like I’m interacting with natural, living, breathing characters, grappling with the turmoil of their lives.

But when I read these manuscripts, I’m intrigued by the unseen faces, the men and women who have taken their time to send these out, to take immense risks. I’m inspired by these folks. I think about their own narratives which stretch across the globe, stories told from the old steel towns of Pennsylvania, the chaos of New York, from the ruggedness of the Rocky Mountain high, and from England, with its grace and verve. I’m inspired to go further in my own work. I might trip and fall along the way, but to delve deep is a kind of proof that I’m in the game, and willing to struggle.

I wonder what’s driven them to write these stories. What their own lives hold for them, what their own goals are as writers. When I reject a story, I am reminded that they are in the trenches with me. That they want to smell success as much as I do, a scent like perfume. They want to wake up in the morning to that slip that begins with “Congratulations” instead of “This piece is not for us.” So do I. I fantasize about publication in Glimmer Train daily. I let myself fantasize. I wake up each morning, dreaming that this might be the day.

I’m sure they do too.

And in the meantime, with a heavy hand, I check the “Decline” button, sending a notice into someone’s life. Somewhere a writer, checking their email eagerly, sees the magic number “1” flickering like the neon lights of old, and they open the email, only to learn that they have once again been rejected.  And they wait, and I wait, and we build up our writing, until we reach that success, our work unfolding before us like a majestic cathedral.

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