the stroheim rejection

At around 6 pm on Sunday I got an email from BW/DR saying that the Stroheim essay I’d submitted was rejected. I mentioned working on it a few weeks back: talked about the headache of watching Stroheim’s four-hour epic twice, reading two biographies, and then writing a ten-page essay over the course of two weeks, putting it through four drafts, and then finally submitting it for their April issue about Long Movies.

The rejection hit me a bit harder than they normally do. I guess cuz I was a little more proud of it than usual. A little more invested.

I think there was also this feeling that I was finally being given the chance to apply whatever writing skills I’ve picked up over the past couple years and apply them toward something that interests me. Something that would have paid.

I’ve been rejected from them a few times before, I know it’s tough to make the cut, but I guess it was the dogged academic approach to this one, all the research and drafts, that made me feel like I was being responsible with it and that the work and discipline would shine through and the editors’d feel it made the cut.

Stroheim at his desk. Posing, as always.

The rejection was a form letter, so there’s no telling what worked about the essay and what didn’t; the same goes for every short story I’ve ever submitted, every novel, every essay. Just a “no.” I’d forgotten how many there’ve been. I had to use the submission platform Submittable with BW/DR, formerly called Submishmash, and in re-opening my account I found over thirty submissions, going back to 2013, that were all rejected.

That experience of scrolling, scrolling, scrolling and seeing titles of things I don’t even remember writing and then, beside each one, a gray box saying DECLINED DECLINED DECLINED was pretty sobering. Especially after all these doubts I’m having about the novel.

It’s been years of this now. Hundreds of submissions and hundreds of rejections. The three fiction publications I’ve had were all accepted by editors who were friends. Two of them were even candid with me about being short on material and desperately needing submissions; assuring me, basically, that anything I submitted would be accepted so long as the work was competent. So I guess I’ve got this chip on my shoulder about never having written anything that stood on its own.

Of course there’s nothing to be said or done about it. The business is the business. But it’s hard not to wonder at this point if I’m just not good at this—which is just me thinking out loud, I’m not fishing for comments or emails of affirmation, I’m just saying that while I know how to put a sentence together, and I know I’m at least a competent writer insofar as I get my points across, there is still a very definite possibility that I’ll never break through with this. Doesn’t mean I’m gonna stop, or cultivate a Plan B; the plan is still to just do this for a living, die trying.

But it’s a bummer. I normally just bustle along and use every rejection as an incentive to send something out to somebody else, but, again, this one is for some reason particularly dispiriting so I’m just kinda sitting with it.

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