Several years ago I wrote a poem that was wonderful. And we're not just talking about any run-of-the-mill kind of wonderful, here. We're talking about a very special, enduring, classical kind of wonderful. Maybe even Pulitzer Prize worthy.
I found the perfect magazine and sent them my masterpiece, then settled down patiently to await their eager acceptance. Within two weeks I had their reply.
They rejected it.
I read and re-read the letter, stunned. The editor politely informed me that my poem had delightful potential, but needed some work and a few changes to be worthy of publication. She even said that she would not mind reading it again if I made the changes she had prescribed.
But I would have none of it. I destroyed her letter, utterly incensed. The Philistine! How, how under Heaven could she even suggest that I alter such a work of genius? To change it would be criminal, desecration, and perhaps even sacrilege!
Clearly the world was not ready for my genius, so I filed the poem away to wait until a magazine came along who could appreciate it for its true worth.
A few weeks ago I was digging through the organized chaos of my writing files looking for something, and came across that poem. Smiling, I opened it for a re-read, since I hadn't even looked at it for a couple of years. Oh, that sweet first verse, that lovely imagery, the delightful storyline...
Wait a sec. Something's rotten in the state of Denmark. This thing is not nearly as good as I remember it being. What in the world happened here?! I mean sure, it has delightful potential, but it definitely needs some work and changes to be worthy of publication... ugh. And I seem to remember a certain editor saying the very same thing in a polite little 'we regret' letter all those years ago.
Alright, so we can all have a laugh at the expense of my melodramatic teenage ego. But I imagine I'm not the only one with a story along this line (I certainly hope not, anyway!).
Sure, editors are human too, and sometimes they're wrong--but not nearly as often as we writers like to think they are. The vast majority of the time they're right, we're just not objective enough to see it. You've got to pity editors in that aspect, really. They get saddled with the task of trying to show a bunch of emotionally compromised and irrational writers what we need to improve in our work, and our responses range from ignoring them completely to having rejection letter-burning parties.
Writers, we know what we're like. I think anyone willing to patiently put up with us and make such consistent efforts to help us in our craft has to be alright.
So the next time you get a letter rejecting your world-changing masterpiece... don't freak out too much. I won't deny the remote chance that the person who rejected it might be a vulgarian Visigoth--it's always possible--but they might just be a caring editor who truly wants to help you improve your skills.
They might even be right.