On Rejection

I spent nearly five months writing, revising, and editing a piece that was organized into 17 vignettes about our experiences adopting our children. The piece was difficult to write because my goal was to keep it honest so I could inform folks about what it's like to adopt children from the foster system and to come to foster-adoption through infertility and failed infant adoption. Out of all the thousands of pieces I've written, this was by far the hardest to write because, quite honestly, it just hurt. It required me to relive our infertility, the little boy we almost brought home and then lost, and remember our kids' broken lives and the struggles we've had and still have because of their pasts.

I was hesitant to send it off to publish because it's so honest and intimate, but after changing names to protect my family, I decided to send it to Literary Mama. A friend and I made it our goal to submit something here by the first of September, so I pushed myself outside the comfort zone of my writing group (all fellow mommas and teachers). Literary Mama accepts work that is too raw and too long for more mainstream publications, and my piece is both raw and long. I was worried that the editors wouldn't pick up on the pattern of organization I chose. I made a risky move and wrote an episodic piece modeled after a piece my writing group had been examining and playing with all last year--it's an obscure format, and it was even difficult for me to implement at times (Ten Stories About Coyotes I Never Told You--the text is near the end of this webpage). 

What it resulted in was a curt rejection notice declaring my piece unfocused: 

Dear Ms. Helzer, 
While we enjoyed your piece Stories About Adoption I Never Told You, ultimately we thought it was too unfocused for us....

I ate tater-tots that night and drank beer while texting snarky things back and forth with my friend who also received a rejection notice that day from Literary Mama (also for a piece that she spent even more time than me writing) feeling sorry for myself, ready to throw in the proverbial towel. But when the sting of rejection faded, I realized how badly I needed to write this piece. I'd love to find an audience for it to educate others, but writing it was pure catharsis. And this is why I fell in love with writing when I was in elementary school---it's a way to purge the emotions. I listened to an amazing interview that Krista Tippet of On Being did with banjo players and singers, Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn. During the interview, Washburn confessed to being a sensitive soul; she said, 

"[...] I was remembering what a sensitive child I was. I was so tuned in to everybody's feelings. And it was a beautiful thing because I saw people's feelings before I saw them. And now I consider it a great gift. But at the time, it — I didn't know how to manage it. And so I felt darkness a lot because I immediately would recognize people feeling darkness. [...] And my whole life, I've had to learn how to manage that. And a beautiful thing is that a song teaches me to manage that [...] It's [a song] a container, for the empathy and for the sensitivity." 

For me, writing is what songs are for Abigail Washburn; it's a container for the empathy and sensitivity...especially the piece that was rejected. 

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