The result of these attempts is NOT a growing portfolio of published work ... but an ever-lengthening list of rejections. Many are polite but impersonal: "This piece isn't what we're looking for." Some more recent ones have been polite and encouraging: "This piece isn't what we're looking for, but please send us more work in the future." Then a couple of months ago, nearly a year after sending a particular story to a journal I liked, I got a polite rejection that went even further. It specified some difficulties the editor had with the story I'd sent, and ended with "Please send us more stories, or a revision of this one."
I discussed this message with my writer's group, then went to work revising the story. My group looked at it two more times. By now the story was 400 words shorter and, I thought, much better. I sent it back to the same journal in an optimistic spirit. But a few weeks later I received a second rejection: although they would welcome my sending more stories, this one still wasn't what they were looking for.
Now that's discouraging! I know I'm biased, but I love this story. The characters, though they aren't based on actual people, are almost as real to me as people I do know personally. What happens to them, while low-key, seems (to me) believable and important. Furthermore, those aspects were made even stronger and clearer in my revision. But ... it's still not good enough.
I have to remind myself of a few things in light of this setback:
1. The story may still not be what that journal is looking for, but it might be just the thing for another one.
2. I strengthened my writing skills by revising the story: I learned how to portray a character's emotional state more believably and clearly.
3. I showed myself that I can incorporate criticism of my work to good effect. That makes me feel confident that when I face another writing challenge, I may be able to meet that one, too.
4. The editor did me a huge favour by not just rejecting the story the first time, but taking the time to give me specific feedback. Now if I send it elsewhere, I can do so with greater confidence knowing it's a better piece of writing than it was three months ago.
5. Rejection of my work is not rejection of me as a writer or as a person. I have not (yet) received a rejection message that said, "Stop annoying us with your irritating attempts to make us publish your excruciatingly bad writing."
I'm going to try to remember these points in the future as I write and send work out. More importantly, I'm going to try to remember them in relation to life in general. We all have something to offer this world, and while it's scary to put ourselves out there and risk being told that we're "not what they're looking for," there are rewards as well.
It's also true that while there's rejection that's constructive and beneficial (like the kind I've discussed here), there's also rejection that's unfair and hurtful. We need to be able to distinguish between the two and know when it's time to let something go and when it's time to protest on our own behalf or someone else's. Maybe receiving constructive rejections can itself be a help to us in making those important distinctions.