A few days ago I received a polite but firm email informing me that my Twelve Week Article had been rejected. Yes, that article. The one to which I’d devoted several months of my life. The one that had inspired an entire series of blog posts. That article.
I had been expecting to wait six months for a response, so was thrilled to receive a decision so soon. When the email landed in my inbox, I skimmed it to find the word “revisions.” Instead, I found a simple sentence explaining that the journal editors had found my article “unsuitable for publication.”
This was was not the outcome I’d hoped for; however, when shitty things happen in life, I try to give zero fucks, write a blog post about it, and learn something from the experience. I had not expected any journal to accept my article without revisions, major or minor. I knew my article had some (okay, several) flaws. I never thought that it might rejected outright. In retrospect, rejection is probably the better outcome, as now I get to have a “learning experience” (as my mother would say) and write about how to get through rejection.
I let the rejection sting for twenty-four hours or so. I let myself feel angry at the journal and its reviewers. As is my habit, I said several bad words in several languages. I’d worked really hard on this article. The version I’d submitted was a million times better than the cringe-worthy version I’d started with; it seemed unfair to me that the editors had rejected it. I reasoned that someone should reward the amount of effort that I’d invested.
Intellectually, I understand rejection, both of the professional and personal types. Nevertheless, much as in life, intellectual understanding of rejection never leads to emotional understanding of it. Rejection, regardless of its packaging, feels shitty. I could feel a big knot of angrysad sitting right under my solar plexus. I gave myself permission to feel it. “Self,” I said, “It is entirely okay to feel rotten about this.” And then I let it be.
After I got tired of carrying the rejection around everywhere, I took some deep breaths and meditated on acceptance. I decided that I would accept this outcome, even as I wished that it could be different. I even let myself consider the wild possibility that the reviewer might have given me some useful feedback. The grownup part of me grudgingly conceded that this was possible.
I forwarded the rejection email to Writing Buddy so that I wouldn’t have to re-read it. She reported that that the comments weren’t so bad.
When I finally got up the nerve to read it again, the flaws that the journal reviewer flagged surprised me, as they were not the ones that I expected. I I cut through no small amount of haughty reviewer language to extract useful bits of constructive criticism. Experiencing article rejection and confronting difficult criticism has reminded me again of the importance of separating the message from the messenger. This was not the kind of deconstructive criticism that I’ve written about earlier, but nor were the reviewer's comments worded in a way that suggested that I might be a competent adult and scholar.
Sandwiched between pedantry were three specific criticisms:
- Provide more historical context and integrate Source X a bit more
- Provide more theoretical analysis (in addition to using Theorist A, consider using Theorist B, too)
- Fix typos and some weird sentence constructions
The biggest flaw that the reviewer found was a lack of historical context? In addition, the reviewer noted that I could have made more of a certain source and provided more analysis using my theoretical framework of choice.
Well, okay. Color me surprised, as these are these a totally fixable problems.
And here's what I've learned: sometimes journals just reject articles with totally fixable problems.
So, here I am again with an unpublished journal article. However, I feel like some things have changed since I wrote it. Namely, I’m working on becoming a persevering writer. I am, of course, tempted to throw my article on to the scrapheap of broken dreams and bury it under a bunch of other stuff. I’m always quite willing to let myself give up when things get rough. However, I don’t want to be that person anymore. I’m going to learn to perservere.
My new plan is to make all of the revisions that the reviewer suggested, including greater historical content and discussions of theoretical frameworks, and resubmitting it to a new journal. Fortunately, I did quite a bit of research to figure out where to submit this article in the first place, so what I’ve really got is a publishing plan. I’m planning to start revising over the weekend.
Rejection in writing, as in life, is inevitable. It’s up to me what to do next.