Publish date:

In my previous posts, I’ve talked about rejection letters and how they make writers feel. But what I’m learning in my class this semester is that the best way to feel better about rejection is to become an editor yourself.

As editors of Columbia’s literary anthology Hair Trigger, we read through stacks and stacks of student manuscripts submitted by their professors (about 2,000 in all), and then label them as yes, no, or maybe. Six readers read each piece, and in class, we discuss any piece that has at least one yes or maybe. Then, if we can’t come to a consensus, we pass it on to three more readers, and if we still can’t agree, our professor reads it and makes a final call.

As in the rest of our workshops, we’re not allowed to say whether we liked or disliked a piece; rather, we’re asked to examine “what’s working or not working.” This little matter of semantics is meant to remind us that just because a person doesn’t like, for example, science fiction or magical realism or sex-and-violence, doesn’t mean stories of these natures can’t be good writing.

But despite our efforts at objectivity, it’s very rare that all eleven of us completely agree on the merits of almost any of the stories we’ve read (although it’s a lot easier to agree on which ones are really awful). There are stories that I’ve thought were really strong that everybody else rejected, and stories that I hated that got moved forward. Sometimes it almost feels like we didn’t even read the same story, our interpretations of it are so different. On the one hand, good writing is good writing: strong characters, language, spatial relationships, sensory details, dialogue, lively scenes, engaging plot, and that indefinable quality—heart, maybe, that is more difficult to identify but which, if it’s not there, results in a story with no life. But it’s difficult to be objective about even those things sometimes, try as we might—it’s inevitable that our own biases and tastes get in the way of our judgment, especially because, as writers, most of us think with our hearts and not our heads most of the time anyway.

But this is not to say that I give myself a pass, or blame it on the editors when a story of mine isn’t accepted somewhere. The truth is, really good stories will always find a home. So it’s on me to keep improving and keep submitting. But it’s important to also remember that people have widely varying tastes when it comes to literature, as they do with movies, music, and all other art forms. In other words: don’t take it personally.


Dr. Munish Batra and Keith R.A. DeCandido: Entertainment and Outrage

Authors Dr. Munish Batra and Keith R.A. DeCandido explain how they came to co-write their novel and why it's important to them that the readers experience outrage while reading.


Incite vs. Insight (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use incite vs. insight with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.


Jane K. Cleland: On Writing the Successful Long-Running Series

Award-winning mystery author Jane K. Cleland describes what it's like to write a long-running book series and offers expert advice for the genre writer.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: #StartWrite, Virtual Conference, and New Courses

This week, we’re excited to announce free resources to start your writing year off well, our Novel Writing Virtual Conference, and more!


20 Most Popular Writing Posts of 2020

We share a lot of writing-related posts throughout the year on the Writer's Digest website. In this post, we've collected the 20 most popular writing posts of 2020.


Carla Malden: Writing With Optimism and Innocence

Screenwriter and author Carla Malden explains why young adult fiction and the '60s go hand-in-hand and how she connected with her main character's voice.


Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Talking About the Work-in-Progress

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake writers make is talking about the work-in-progress.


Greta K. Kelly: Publishing Is a Marathon

Debut author Greta K. Kelly reveals how the idea for her novel sparked and the biggest surprise of her publication journey.

Poetic Forms

Mistress Bradstreet Stanza: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the Mistress Bradstreet stanza, an invented form of John Berryman.