All posts tagged Coffee

When I first started submitting work for publication in earnest, a personal rejection (when an editor or reader gives specific feedback, such as what they liked about your work and/or why it was rejected) was rare and valuable; almost as good as an acceptance.


Almost as good like winning a free sandwich on a scratch-off game, to be sure – yes, I’d rather get published / win the big prize, but sandwiches are nice too.

A personal rejection means that someone took special notice of your work; it wasn’t just an auto-reject by a slush pile robot or an embittered assistant reader getting drunk on whiskey sours somewhere and reading snippets from your beloved story/poem/essay out loud for sadistic kicks.

For an under-published writer, a personal rejection isn’t just encouraging (though it can be that, too). A personal rejection is medicine. Having trouble finding a home for your work? Here’s why: your poem needs tightening. Your story needs a resolution. Your changing POV is confusing, your narrative is stilted, your something or other needs some kind of attention – it was an almost for us, here’s how it could have been a yes. OR – or! There’s nothing wrong with your work at all; we just couldn’t use it this time – please try us again.


an endangered baby bird carrying a gilded note with advice on how to improve your writing (and your chances of getting an eventual “yes”)

From what I can tell, personal rejections are becoming even more unusual these days. My rate of submission hasn’t changed, so either my writing IS SO GOOD it leaves editors speechless, OR, they have less time and inclination to make personal observations. It’s probably the latter, maybe having to do with the publishing glut and automated submission portals  (though the speechless thing sounds good, too).

Whatever the reason for their rarity, if someone sends you a personal rejection, treat it like precious baby bird.


Then again, sometimes – sometimes! –  personal rejections are dumb.

Recently I received a rejection for a flash fiction / vignette along with a thoughtful explanation for why it had been rejected – exactly the kind of thing I would have salivated over a few years ago. The editor even included a helpful full revision of the piece with suggested line edits and a total overhaul of the narrative style.


I hope you're saying Wait, what? because that is what I said, minus some creative and colorful comments of my own.

Wait, what?

It’s important to keep in mind that this editor is probably a lovely person. Her life is as full and evolved and as busy as yours or mine. She probably deals with hundreds of submissions on a regular basis plus whatever editor-ly duties she has hanging over her head. The fact that she took the time not only to comment but to thoroughly comment on my work was an act of enormous generosity for which I should be grateful. What I should have done was file the rejection away and move on.

That’s not what I did.

Instead, I broke my rule of zen and immediately hit “reply” to explain – as politely as possible while still sounding smugly self-righteous – that while I respect the editorial prerogative to reject my work, there is a difference between editing and re-writing.

Which is true. This editor crossed a line. In her zeal to be helpful, she overlooked personal style and creative choice and revised my (much polished) story to how she would have written it herself, which is unhelpful, at best, and more than a little insulting.

But I should have let it go.

coffee first

Never hit send before the owl mug has been drained. Preferably twice.

I broke the rule because I’m human (and I’m pretty sure I hadn’t had my coffee yet and/or was coping with a rash of rejections that week), which brings us back to the point that not every personal rejection is golden because editors are human, too. They have their own prejudices and preferences. They like what they like, and they’re looking for what they’re looking for. Sometimes they make decisions while under-caffeinated. Sometimes they mean well and do dumb things. Sometimes when they reject you, it may be for sound, objective reasons, or it may be because they just don’t get you, which is not to say some other editor/venue won’t.

Bottom line, personal rejections are like any other form of critique. Critique is valuable, it’s necessary – hell, it’s crucial – but only in general. If you’ve ever worked with a critique group or beta readers, you’ll know that for every 5 people you share your work with you’ll get 15 reactions, most of it contradictory, some of it downright dumb. Your job, as a writer, is to sort through it all, look for what’s consistent (if 13 people tell you your action sequence is dull, it’s probably dull) and balance that against your own judgment, your own vision. Sometimes, critique will point you in the right direction, and sometimes it will only muck you up.

Sometimes, you have to say “Dear Editor – thank you for your interest in my submission, but after careful consideration, I have decided that your rejection just isn’t right for me.”***

***Say it – don’t send it.  Drink your coffee.

Five years ago this month, I retired from my full-time job as a bookkeeper.  My son was my main reason for taking the leap — he had spent half his life in daycare at that point, and I wanted to be the one to raise him — but finding time for my writing was a close second.

I remember driving home from work one day, getting an idea, and reaching for a pen at the stoplight, only to realize that not only did I not have a notebook with me, but it’d probably been months since I’d thought to carry one. As someone who has often relied on writing for survival — quite literally — that was a major wake-up call.

My salary was a good one. Giving it up was hard, and definitely came with emotional struggles as well as financial ones. But we were able to make it work, and for that I will be forever grateful, because I feel like the most important part of my life started the day I traded my calculator for a keyboard.

One of the first poems that I submitted for publication was to a literary journal called Kaleidoscope, published by United Disability Services in Akron, Ohio.

kaleidoscope 620

The poem, “Portrait of a Woman Drinking Coffee,” is a somewhat goofy but earnest reflection on unipolar disorder, also known as cyclical depression, dysthymia, or whatever label the DSM wants to give it this year (basically bipolar disorder with no highs, only lows) – a condition I’ve struggled with since I was a little girl.

My late-teens and early twenties were the hardest (they typically are, aren’t they?) I lost a great scholarship, some good friends, and several years of writing  — almost lost my life, too.

By twenty-five I had my shit (mostly) together (chain-smoking notwithstanding), graduated college with honors, and was working a good trade. Just as important, I was finally able to hold a pen again and start picking away at the emotional scabs that had been keeping me from putting down words in a coherent and meaningful way (and isn’t that an attractive metaphor? pick, pick).

Once I would have tumbled into this emotion
a storm’s eye sitting
in a broken coffeehouse chair
once I would have seen it as poles colliding
closing in on every last spark of joy
but now I see it as an old
familiar friend;
the kind that puts out a cigarette in your coffee
and reminds you
of everything you try to ignore

“Portrait of a Woman Drinking Coffee” is from that era, written in the corner of the Brew Ha Ha balcony in a messy notebook with an ashtray full of clove cigarettes in front of me.

ashtray-295028_640Though it took them nearly five years to publish it (five years!!!), I let UDS take their time (with only minimal grumbling) because I couldn’t think of a better home for a poem like this than Kaleidoscope, a magazine “creatively focuse[d] on the experiences of disability through literature and the fine arts.”

Putting aside the notion that many of the best artists, writers, and performers are/were nut jobs (though they totally are/were), the arts themselves are an important means of therapy and self-expression. This is true for everyone, but perhaps especially so for those whose ability to function day-to-day is a constant challenge. Kaleidoscope provides a forum, a spotlight, for artists with disabilities, including the so-called invisible disability of mental illness. As a survivor, I am happy to be living in an era when the stigma of difference is being tested, shaken, picked at like an ugly scab on our social conscience (see what I did there?) I want to thank projects like Kaleidoscope for adding to that momentum.  I am honored to have even a small part in it.

To download this (Issue #70, “Journeying to Acceptance”) or other issues of Kaleidoscope, visit