The Rejection Tug-of-War


The gods and demons churn the ocean of milk, with Vasuki the serpent as the rope. Angkor Wat, 2016

Writing and rejection go hand in hand. Writers are an odd lot. We spend hours, months, even years of our lives on work that reflects our very souls. Then we send that work out into the world inviting, even seeking, rejection. When it comes, we brood. Was that editor or agent right? Is the work dead? Is is any good? Is there something there worth salvaging? What can I do with it? What next? It’s an endless tug-of-war between yourself and the work.

“No.” “Not right for us.” “Not quite there.” Rejection doesn’t come as often now as it used to, but it still stabs to the heart. The only way you can avoid it is not to send any manuscripts out, and what’s the point of that?

There’s a remarkable bas-relief on one of the walls of the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia. It shows the Sagar or Samudra Manthan story from Hindu mythology, the churning of the ocean of milk, with the gods and demons pitted against each other. Vasuki the divine serpent serves as the rope that spins the mountain Mandara, which is the churning post. The serpent spits poison. The world is at risk. But the prize is the nectar of immortality.

Is there a better prize in all the universe? In the end, even in some small way, isn’t that what we’re after?

As Marion Dane Bauer says:

What do you do when the answer is “No”? You listen.

You rethink. You re-envision. You revise. You keep on churning. Because maybe, just maybe, the nectar of immortality will rise up from that ocean.

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