On the Achievement of My 100th Literary Journal Rejection
In 1955, a struggling actor in Los Angeles got a job driving a cab. This allowed him to work at night, and still go out on auditions during the day. Cab drivers in Hollywood must meet all sorts of famous and influential people, and one afternoon this particular cabbie picked up a fare who topped all others--John F. Kennedy. Kennedy maintained his masterful political charm even from the backseat of the car. The then-Senator peppered the driver with questions about his family and his acting prospects, about their shared hometown of Boston and Adlai Stevenson's prospects for winning the Democratic presidential nomination.
I can guess what that driver felt, because I've felt it, too. He strove for something difficult, something that many of his friends and relatives probably dismissed as an impossibility. Acting? What a cliche. What a ridiculous endeavor. Do you know how many people are trying to become actors? There's no money in acting. When one struggles to achieve something like becoming an actor, or, in my case, a writer, every experience comes to be viewed through that lens. It morphs into a sort of obsession. Every person is someone new to discuss my writing with, every new memory transforms into potential subject matter for a story or essay. I imagine that driver couldn't help but question if his encounter with JFK meant something, if, finally and at long last, his moment had arrived. Maybe that connection would finally lead to something. Who knows how, but maybe that was the turning point.
At some point during the ride, Kennedy offered this thought to the driver. "Lots of competition in your business, just like in mine. Just remember there's always room for one more good one."
As it turns out, the driver was a "good one," and his business made room for him. Leonard Nimoy acted in small parts and B-movies for another nine years after that cab ride until the pilot episode of Star Trek in 1964.
Today, I had an experience that feels important. I didn't receive sage advice from a beloved politician or anything quite so dramatic. In my email, I found another rejection from a literary journal, which happens several times a week. But this one is my 100th. If all successful writers face mountains of rejection, then I am inching closer to being a successful writer. Stephen King had his infamous nail full of rejection letters. All the stories I've read about winning query letters and offer of representation phone calls feature tons of "Dear author, Unfortunately..." emails. All those people felt everything I keep feeling. Every rejection is another tiny devastation that forces the question, "What the hell am I doing?"
But this one, I will celebrate. Number 99 stung terribly, and so will number 101. But number 100 is a milestone. I may not be good enough yet, but I am working, desperately, hopefully, tirelessly. Soon they will have no choice but to make me some room.