The Rejecter in Chief

I’ve been cleaning out my files, the ones with old manuscripts that my mother liked to call “money in the bank.” Every year I toss a few that can’t really claim that distinction and that, according to my present lights, aren’t even worthy of a re-write. At such times, I call upon the Rejecter in Chief. Recently I ran across something from long ago where I had jumped into such a role before it was necessary. An editor had turned down a story but said that she loved the way I wrote about the natural world and asked if I would consider doing a story about a turtle. Apparently I didn’t look past the rejection to the possibilities she was suggesting. There were a number of other times when the editor’s upfront NO inflicted such a feeling of defeat, that I didn’t even follow up on later words of encouragement.

Thinking about this today, I realize that we often reject our own manuscripts before giving them half a chance. And we are much harder on ourselves than any editor or agent would ever be. Possibilities? Forget about it. We stick it in a drawer and grieve silently, ashamed to admit how attached we are to a world created out of thin air that doesn’t enchant someone else in the way that we think it should.

Recently, I found a manuscript for a chapter book that I wrote about 25 years ago and only sent out once. Why did I reject it without giving it a fighting chance? Why am I reluctant to read it to my writing group just because the Rejecter in Chief turned it down many years ago? And why do I still take rejections so to heart that I shelve something that I truly care about without a fight. I see this happen with my friends as well who are sometimes too willing to throw away something because of a few negative remarks or critical suggestions.

At this time in my life I worry about being out of touch with trends, with topics, and even with language, and my Rejecter in Chief perks up at anything remotely sentimental. And so I’ve decided that there will be a few rules she must observe before getting the final say. First, she must wait for me to read it aloud without interrupting. Second she must allow me to show it to someone or a group of someones I trust. Third, she must not let me succumb to shame if the work turns out to be not quite as good as I had supposed. The final say is still hers but not the process until my hopeful side can reasonably conclude, even after many years, that it’s time to call it quits.

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Postscript: When the Rejector in Chief read this, she told me it wasn’t up to snuff and that I should trash it. I reminded her of my new rules, however, so here it is for better or worse.