Dissed and Dismissed: On Missing Body Parts and Writerly Rejection


I received strange news from the chiropractor today. It appears I am missing my bottom set of ribs. It’s a relatively harmless genetic quirk (my mom, apparently, is missing hers as well … who knew?) that affects some 6 percent of the population. Nobody ever even noticed my anatomical failing till now. But not to worry. I’ve got 11 perfectly healthy sets to mitigate the gap. And really, it’s only a small one.

It has been a month of coming up short, writing-wise, as well. Permit me to briefly complain?

I’ve lately made a few inroads with bigger, better-known websites and had established some very promising writerly leads for my personal essays. I’ve been trying for a few years, now, to get these published in bigger outlets, but, as is the case for so many would-be big-time writers, the results have been less than stellar. A lot of work for a lot of very politely worded “No Thank Yous.” This was, yet again, the case with my latest round of prospects, all of which have recently fallen through.

Then, just this morning, my biggest client, for whom I’ve been working on a weekly basis since I jumped the Sinking Newspaper Ship to go full-time freelance more than two years ago, fired me.

Oh, everybody’s had all sorts of encouraging feedback for me and nice things to say about my potential and my can-do attitude, but nobody seems to feel that the quality of my output is quite up to snuff, or up to style. Or both. Or either. Or whatever.

It’s not personal, I realize. It’s about creating a product that a client wants to pay you for. It’s a business transaction, calculated upon risk and reward. But being told, “No” feels … intensely personal. And sort of gutting.
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Being a freelance writer means getting hired (or fired) on a daily basis, and it takes a lot of mental-emotional winding up to deal with the unpredictability of that, week after week. I’ve been doing it for 27 months, and it hasn’t gotten remarkably easier, that’s for sure. The highs are still high, and the lows are still sucking mucky pits of disappointment.

And then last night, even before I’d been fired by my big client, this thought occurred to me: am I truly willing and ready to make the (possibly decades-long) time-investment required to succeed at a career in writing? Do I have the hide for it?

I’m still not quite sure. The hopeful part of me believes that such questions are merely the mutterings of ego, that it’s normal to be discouraged, and perhaps even noble to be rejected, but absolutely unacceptable to simply give up after a few mid-season losses. The less hopeful part of me says, “No. No, I am not willing.”

The less hopeful part of me thinks maybe I should have become an acupuncturist, or a teacher, or a radio journalist instead. The less hopeful part of me wants to curl up in my office recliner and pout like I’ve never pouted before. Noisily and copiously, perhaps while smoking a cigarette or having a lunchtime drink.

I’ve done neither of those things as of yet and it’s already after 12:30 p.m., but I’ll admit it: I have definitely been pouting. There were even tears, people! As a writer, I tend to wear my feelings on my shirtsleeves. It feels brave, but like those missing ribs, it also leaves me feeling pitifully overexposed in some moments. My fawning emotionalism isn’t a personality trait I’m in a hurry to change, but it’s also not necessarily one I’d recommend that anyone interested in a creative profession cultivates intentionally.

As an editor, I tell it to my clients all the time: Develop a thicker hide. Work on yourself and on your process and push through rejections and disappointments. You just never know what’s going to hit. As a writer, I have a bit more trouble taking my own advice.

How to stave off the Pity Party when the “No Thank Yous” become rather prolific and you find you are missing something essential? Me and my 11 ribs are off to Mexico Thursday morning. I’m photographing a wedding there this weekend, and have plans to stay on for much of December. My plate has been unexpectedly cleared of some of the work I’d planned to do down there, so I suppose I’ll have plenty of time to ponder all this. In the meantime, I’m curious to know how other writers cope.

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11 thoughts on “Dissed and Dismissed: On Missing Body Parts and Writerly Rejection

      • Intergalacticbattlegirl says:

        😦 is it wrong that hearing how someone like you (a writer i hold in esteem) gets both fired and rejected, consoles me by confirming that talent and even perseverance do not a market recognition make, which is why my resolve to not even try is both steadfast and correct and my commitment to run-on sentences is beyond practical reproach as I have no intention of trying to sell them ever…i think.

        • erinjbernard says:

          The whole market aspect cannot and should not be ignored. And writing for pleasure and self-discovery and the entertainment of others is very legit, as far as I’m concerned. I’m doing some soul searching these days. I think there is a zone any would-be writer can get into where he/she is doing writing for pay and enjoying the work, but it might not resemble art or be anything close to that person’s favorite kind of writing. The soul-feeding kind, I mean. What’s cool about writing for pay is that every assignment is a chance to improve, and I truly do enjoy any and all kinds of writing. It’s just disappointing to put your more personal work out there and see it get less attention than, say, a story you wrote about a casino or a lighthouse. I like copywriting, but I LOVE personal essays. In an ideal world, I’d be financially compensated for both.

      • Intergalacticbattlegirl says:

        ..so i got rejected after this interview for a job (most suitable to retards). After a while i contacted this exec whose friend i knew through whom i got the interview and was all polite bladiblabla thanks for the opportunity bladibla, in her polite response she encouraged me to keep applying but to pay extra attention to spelling and grammar on the practical skills tests, as spelling and grammar are very important in their selection process! I was passed up because somehow on this test for 6th graders i either misspelled something or disregarded grammar. Yup.

        • erinjbernard says:

          Ha, oh jeez … it would have been interesting to find out what you misspelled or used in correctly. I had a nightmare interview at The Oregonian newspaper once … To this day, I’m not exactly sure what I said to offend the editor, but offend her I did, and mightily, within the first minute of the interview. She got more and more annoyed with me as things progressed and it was super confusing because even if she thought I was a terrible journalist, I am definitely usually perceived as non-threatening and friendly. Who knows what it is/was with some such occurrences as our ill-fated interviews? We probably don’t even want to know.

          • Intergalacticbattlegirl says:

            I want to know lol, i was in such disbelief & so embarassed that i actually came to believe it was a conspiracy & a lie lol, like the women who interviewed me hated me cus i’m prettier and sabotaged my test hahahaha..the things we tell ourselves

            • erinjbernard says:

              Well, the other side of that coin is people are catty and probably do sabotage others at times. I’ve heard from several people who work in retail that when someone who looks annoying/too pretty/not pretty enough comes in and asks for a job application, they’ll kindly tell the prospective employee that they’re fresh out of apps and so sorry! So it could certainly be true! The few times I’ve had to interview and hire people, I followed the advice of a former boss who encouraged me to hire people smarter than I am so my life is easier. Seems logical enough, but idiots get hired every day, so who knows?

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