The human on the other end of your writing’s rejection
Many years ago, I used to submit personal essays for publication on a regular basis. To Salon, specifically, which had a thriving reputation as the place to publish personal essays. I can’t remember why, but when it came to personal essays, Salon was the It Magazine.
None of mine ever received a response, rejected or otherwise. They simply disappeared into some kind of editorial black hole. It was incredibly demoralizing. She must hate me, I thought of the personal essays editor on a regular basis. I didn’t blame her; I was just disheartened. She couldn’t stand my work, or maybe me. My words, my thoughts, my ideas.
Some years later, after I’d given up on publishing with Salon, a friend recommended a book that had just come out, the memoir Blackout by Sarah Hepola. It was about Hepola’s experience with alcoholism and the torturous process she went through to release its grip on her life.
Late in the book, once she begins trying to give up alcohol, Hepola describes a period of time when she would come home from work and immediately shut herself in a dark closet. For hours, if I remember. Simply to fight against the urge to drink. It sounded like hell. She wrote about her job, editing at Salon, about the support of her boss, and about her daily struggles to keep doing good work while fighting her own psyche and addiction.
Hepola, you see, used to be the personal essays editor at Salon.
Listening to that section of the audiobook, I stopped and went back to listen again. Holy shit, I thought. The time period she was describing was exactly the period when I was submitting essays to her editorial desk and assuming she hated my writing because I never heard back.
When we think it’s about us — whatever “it” is — most often, it has absolutely nothing to do with us.
While I was perpetually demoralized because she wasn’t accepting my essays, Hepola was going through her own personal hell. I had assumed it had everything to do with me and my writing. Maybe it did! Maybe she read my essays and didn’t like them. But the point is that whatever significance I thought my writing had in her mind was absurdly out of proportion.