Today I learned that a manuscript I wrote–one I am particularly proud of–was rejected by another academic journal. Which means I was rejected by another journal.
Friends of mine will remind me that it is not fair to internalize the rejection like that. “You weren’t rejected,” they’ll say. “The journal just believes that the manuscript isn’t strong enough for publication, yet.” Then they’ll put on their best hopeful, excited face: “But it will be one day. You’ll see.”
No I won’t. The manuscript’s gone as far as it can go. And apparently, it can’t go farther than a couple conferences. It’s time to kill it.
And I’m sad, but not because I have to kill the manuscript. I’m sad because I’m taking the rejection personally. I was rejected. I was rejected writing about a topic that defines my work and my identity. If I can get rejected writing about a topic that I think I’m well-versed in, then it’s hard not to feel like a failure in all the other aspects of my life.
I’m not used to being rejected. I am, however, used to doing the rejecting. Next semester I’ll have to tell dozens of college students that their work is not as strong as they think it is. Students will turn in assignments that they love–assignments that they are proud of–and believe that I will love their papers as much as they do. They wait with anticipation for the “A” and “Great job!” comments they are certain they will receive, only to be demoralized when their work gets a “B-.”
The comments will be full and fair, and offer helpful suggestions for how students can improve their work. I’ll hope they won’t take the grade personally–as if getting a B- on the paper means they get a B- in life–and that maybe, just maybe, they’ll take the assessment as what it is meant to be: an effort to tell them this is where they are, and how they can get to where they want to be.
But when I’m the one who is told by a journal that my manuscript is unpublishable–“Yet,” my friends say–it’s hard not to take it personally. I don’t see the comments as thoughtful suggestions on how to strengthen the paper; I see them as a list of reasons why I suck at life.
A grad school buddy told me, “Don’t love your research. Instead, love research. That way, you’ll always take the rejections the way they are intended: to help make research stronger.” But good research is autobiographical, and we pour so much of ourselves into the topics we chose to cover. When we submit our manuscripts for review, it feels like we submit ourselves for review. When our manuscripts are rejected, a little part of our confidence dies.
Tonight, I’ll mope. I’ll think I am not cut out to be an academic. I’ll think I’m a fraud, a poseur who should stop pretending that he knows anything about anything.
Then tomorrow, I’ll continue editing the next manuscript.