In the soulful words of Ms. Erykah Badu, I'm sensitive about my shit. I found out how sensitive when I submitted a chapter from my book, That Damn Girl Stuff: A Mother's Truth to Memoir Magazine for a review and their #MeToo Essay Contest. I felt my authenticity and transparency made me relatable. Who are they to tell me different?
Scrolling through morning emailsx I see the words, "Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s the best fit for the magazine as it currently stands," in the preview screen. WHAT! I didn't ask to be in the magazine. I was entering a contest or so I thought.
Yes, I submitted my story. I also asked for a review with a three week turn around. I didn't know this was not the link for the contest. I was looking for a review I could add to my site or book. I didn't fathom a review like proofreading. Regardless of my intentions they rejected me. I hadn't gotten out of bed or had my morning coffee and my day was starting crappy.
I decided this email wouldn't affect my morning reading routine. So what if I wasn't good enough for their raggedy magazine. I open my book by Brené Brown, Dare To Lead, for a 30 minute dig in. I couldn't get two paragraphs read. My concentration was blown. Besides, Brown's take on vulnerability and leadership was not what I needed at the moment.
"Okay, let's walk it off." I get up, get dressed and grabbed my iPhone. Me and the Lord were gonna have some church a la Kirk Franklin. He always get's my spirit up. If he didn't work then I still had Hezekiah Walker and Donnie McClurkin to round it out.
Gospel and God were doing there thing. I was finishing up my mile and felt better prepared to face the day. Still listening to my music, I enter the house and head down the hall to my room. Sitting on the bed, I play my BricksBreaker game to keep me distracted from the email. I knew it was waiting to tell me I'm not good enough. It can't hurt me if I don't read it, right? I procrastinated as long as I could before taking a peak. "The tone of the story is very colloquial."
Now I'm offended. The angry black women in me welled up without ever finishing the email. How dare these white folks with their lily white magazine insult my authentic self. You asked for entries from women of color and now you call me colloquial. I was still cursing them in my head when my husband emerged from the bathroom. He asked about my walk. I responded by sharing I was trying to get away from the email.
My husband knows I'm emotional. The tremor in my voice and forming tears were not new. I explained how I preferred self-publishing and not submitting my work for this very reason. Who are they to call me colloquial? Who are they to judge my work? They don't understand how black folks get down. They don't know me.
Despite the repeated email bashing going on in my head, the anxiety, and hurt feelings I steeled myself to read the WHOLE message. I went back and read it again. Then again. After the last read through I went to make coffee and sulk a while longer. While standing brewing my coffee a sudden smile appears on my face. I realized my small victory. The magnitude of my first rejection hit me. By submitting my work I was ready to tell the world I'm a writer. No longer will I confine my words to the musings of a woman with a keyboard. I had the nerve to submit my work like any other writer.
With my new smile I returned to my room to look up colloquial. Ignorance had gotten the better of me. My personal definition was a fraction of a sliver of the actual meaning. This time I read the email with different insight. It was not about the black woman and the white magazine. It was not about the bad writer and the mean magazine. It was about a story that has the potential to be a better story.
Rather than telling the story to the reader like you are talking to a friend, write it out like a narrative with dialogue and treat yourself and the other people involved like characters. You introduce some interesting themes (such as, the lie vs. the truth, “appropriate” clothing), but you need to push those themes further. It feels really significant to me that your daughter was the first person to hear the whole truth, but your daughter kind of disappears out of the story.
Being new to the game with no formal writing education, I now see this for the valuable opportunity it is. They didn't reject me. They didn't even reject the story. I attached myself to my work. I initially identified the email as rejection so I felt rejected.
It's not easy opening yourself to criticism but there is value when it's presented correctly. I now have an opportunity to share a better story and I will take it.