There Is No Door: Reflections on Rejection
By Andrew Mozina - Author of "Quality Snacks" Obsessed With Progress - Featured Guest! As a writer, I’m tempted to say that I’ve been rejected more times than I can count, but that’s not true, because I have kept count. I mainly write short stories and every once in a while I try a novel. I’ve kept records for every one of my submissions to magazines or agents or book publishers, so I can quantify what’s gone on here: over the past twenty nine years, I’ve received 961 rejections out of 997 submissions. In other words, my work gets rejected about 97% of the time. Between 2000 and 2006, my book of short stories alone was rejected 95 times by agents and publishers before it was finally accepted. My record for a single short story is 79 rejections over ten years. Then one evening I received an email from an editor saying it had been accepted. So how do I deal with all of this rejection? Whenever I feel the slightest twinge of self-doubt or anxiety, I turn to drugs and alcohol, and they have served me well. Always run from your problems, because if you run fast enough, they’ll never catch up to you. No, the weird thing is, the first time I had a short story rejected, it made me happy. I had started to take writing seriously my first year out of college. I had deferred law school, and I was working as a clerk at a bank, processing transactions for trust accounts, watching millions of dollars of other people’s money go by, all day. I was thinking I would rather be a writer than a lawyer but I wasn’t sure, so the stakes seemed pretty high when I sent out my first short story. But when I received my first rejection, I was strangely calm, even sort of pleased with myself. And it wasn’t just because I had addressed the return envelope correctly or affixed the right postage, though that was certainly part of it, but it was, I think now, simply because I was doing what I wanted to do, and some magazine editor with an impersonal pre-printed rejection form, which would have been the same had I submitted grocery list scrawled in crayon, agreed that I was doing what I wanted to do, however badly I was doing it. Of course, some rejections are worse than others. The really dangerous rejections are the ones that make you afraid to keep doing what you want to do. These can lead to a whole other type of rejection: preemptive rejection. Preemptive rejections are the ones that you do to yourself; they are pre-printed in a wholly different sense. They happen when you don’t sit down to work on something because you’re afraid that what you’re going to produce will be bad or won’t work. And then being aware that you’re preemptively rejecting yourself can lead to a scary sort of bad mood that tends to snowball and grow grimmer the longer you’re in it. Writer’s block, procrastination—these are polite terms for the state of total soul-sucking paralysis and fear I’m talking about. But if I’ve learned one thing about dealing with rejection is that this fear is not really conquered by talent or discipline or any other famous character virtue. Because the situation is this: there’s a doorway, and the doorway comes between one room, where you’re experiencing the horrible hell of preemptively feeling like a rejectable failure, and the other room, where you would do what you want to do. The secret that you already know is this: there is no door in the door way. There is nothing to break down or overcome or unlock. No skill or ability, except being alive, is required to change rooms. All you have to do is to begin to type, to print your name on the application, to sing the first note, and you are no longer failing, you are through that doorless doorway and doing the thing you want to be doing. And almost as soon as you do that, your reward will be a surprisingly quick end to that gloomy feeling of having had your soul emptied piece by piece with a melon scooper that accompanies preemptive failure; and as you begin to muse and stare and tinker and problem solve, the next thing you know, you’re lost in the bliss of just doing what you want to do. There is no better feeling. And it’s always available to you. Do this and your work will be done quicker than you imagined. Then have yourself a drink and wait for the real rejections to start pouring in. Enjoy them because you’ve earned them! And, by the way, toast your successes, too, because they are just as inevitable. -------------------------------------- About Andrew Mozina
Ink, paper, dark humor and a dash of cynicism is short story writer Andy Mozina’s secret recipe for his newest collection, “Quality Snacks” (May 1, Wayne State University Press). “Quality Snacks” has already made some waves. The short story collection was a semi-finalist for the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction (2011) and finalist for multiple honors including the Elixir Press Fiction Award (2012), Dzanc Short Story Collection Contest (2012), Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award (2011) and the Autumn House Fiction Contest (2011). Mozina grew up in Brookfield, Wisc., a suburb of Milwaukee. He studied economics at Northwestern University and later attended Harvard Law School for a year. He earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Boston University. He moved to St. Louis where he completed a doctorate in English literature at Washington University. Finally, after graduate school, he moved to Kalamazoo, Mich., in 1999 to teach literature and creative writing at Kalamazoo College. Mozina’s first collection, “The Women Were Leaving the Men” (2007, Wayne State University Press), is the winner of the 2008 Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award for Fiction and a 2008 finalist for the Glassgow/Shenandoah Prize for Emerging Writers. He is also the author of “Joseph Conrad and the Art of Sacrifice” (2001, Routledge). Mozina has published fiction in Tin House, Ecotone, Fence, The Southern Review and Missouri Review. He has been interviewed about his work on public radio stations in Kalamazoo and Milwaukee. Mozina lives in Michigan with his wife, Lorri, and daughter Madeleine.