Learning from Rejections (#2)

I have entered a new perspective where I no longer run from rejections.

Even a few weeks ago, when I pitched a publication, my pitch was based around avoiding rejection. I would research thoroughly to make sure it was aligned with the magazine. I would submit my ideas with utmost care. I would wait in tortured silence, hoping the rejection would never come.

It’s not that I did anything wrong. It’s just that fear motivated everything that I did. I did all the right things (research etc.) for the sole purpose of avoiding rejection. I was afraid of being ignored or having my creative work criticized.

Today I felt a switch.

I’ve been working on a pitch for a feature story in the Sierra Club magazine, Sierra. Two hours of researching forest fires and building my backstory went into this pitch. I even drafted it twice before sending it. I waited until Monday because I believe sending it in on Friday is a recipe for disaster. When I submitted it this morning, I felt joyous. Can I do that again? I thought. Building a story like this is fun.

This feeling persisted despite immediate obstacles.

Buoyed by my joy, I continued researching places to publish. While scrolling through Backpacker Magazine’s contributor guidelines, I noticed my “error.” Holding no punches, the magazine authors stated in unambiguous terms that new and emerging writers would rarely be considered for a feature story. The same had to apply for the Sierra magazine. There was little to no chance that my pitch would land anywhere.

I smiled and continued my research.

What? I can hear my self of a weeks ago saying. Didn’t that feel like a crushing blow to know your article would probably never see the light of day? You wasted hours of your time on something that would never be published. 

A brave new voice answers, But it was fun. And that’s my unvarnished truth. Some of the most fun that I’ve had during the last week (outside of hiking and obvious fun events) was creating that pitch. I enjoyed researching the forest fires that I hiked through. I devoured maps, stats, and articles in a search for the right angle. And it was fun! Possibly more fun than actually writing the article. The act of looking for a story for Sierra was in itself very rewarding.

Realizing that I enjoy this aspect of the work has been a powerful acknowledgment of this path for me. If I’m not focused on the anxiety of rejection, being a writer feels good. It feels right. It fits like an awesome glove.

Honestly, what a relief. If there were no more to being a writer than being able to face down the demons of criticism, it would have been hard to continue. It’s a big obstacle to climb and a constant battle. How pleasant to know that I can ignore the fears (note: I have been working on this skill for a LONG time). And even better to know that, freed of the fear, pitching and creating stories makes me happy.


To read more about my current transformational period, check out my article on Elephant Journal.

Learning from Rejections (#1)

Every writer lives in dread of the rejection letter. Those of us who have struggled with tying our self-worth to our successes are doubly terrified. While I’ve worked to extricate my self-worth from my actions, I still hate rejection letters. However, the more astute writers that I have heard from have told me that rejection letters have a purpose – to tell us what we missed and where we need to improve.

I got this rejection from a travel site called The Expeditioner. Reviewing the site, I saw that the writers had a great sense of humor. Therefore, I chose to write about some funny exchanges between a tour guide and my friend at a dolphin watching tour.

I read the article at my writing group in Capitol Hill. While I was secretly hoping for rolling belly laughs, I did get a few chuckles from people. The feedback was mostly positive. They recommended that I add a few more details about the boat.

After collecting pictures from my fellow adventurers, I submitted the photos and copy to The Expeditioner.

Within 48 hours, it was rejected.

I spent about an hour being mad. Then I reassured myself that it wasn’t my skills. It was probably just a poor fit for the publication. Looking deeper at that realization, I understood that I missed a large part of travel writing.

Like an essay or memoir, travel writing has to have a higher purpose than entertainment. There has to be an underlying truth, a discovery about the self, or something universally human. Otherwise, it’s just an amusing anecdote.

I wrote an amusing anecdote, a lovely scene. It served no cause. I can see why others might not find it interesting.

A writer friend of mine had gotten a harsh critique at the circle. One person asked him the point of his memoir scene. This person reiterated that every passage has to have a point, even in a memoir.

The same thing could have been said of my travel writing. I suspect I narrowly avoided the criticism because my story was funny.

Going forward, I am trying to keep in mind that travel writing is still essay writing. There has to be a point and journey. Being someone who describes people and places well is not enough.


In an attempt to come to terms with the idea that I will be rejected, I am hoping to post more of these realizations. That’s why I called this one #1.

An Unexpectedly Snowy Ski Trip to Whistler-Blackcomb

When my boyfriend picked out the dates for our ski weekend, we had no idea what to expect. On a warm December day in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, he selected February 2nd and 3rd. It seemed like a safe bet to get snow, but it was early enough in the year to be warm. Little did we know that we would careen through 6 inches of snow on Route 1 or use our Subaru Legacy to plow a path from our AirBnb driveway to the street.

From the start of the trip, it was obvious that this wasn’t going to be an easy adventure. Leaving Seattle, we took the normal superhighway of I-5. In 120 minutes, when we would typically be sailing through Bellingham, minutes from the Canadian border, we were still in Seattle. Technically, it was Lynnwood. But moving 3 miles in 120 minutes was unexpected. There wasn’t even any snow, just rain, and a terrible car crash.

As we finally pushed north, the rain turned to snow. Sleety slush rained down on us as we idled at the border crossing to Canada. I carefully flicked the windshield wipers off before we reached the window. Our lane had moved so slow, so I suspected that I would get a thorough examination before we were allowed to enter Canada.

“What is your purpose in traveling to Canada?” The border agent had thick black eyebrows.

“We’re traveling to Whistler for skiing.” I chirruped, pretending this exchange didn’t make me nervous.

“Where are you staying?”

“At an AirBnb in Squamish.”

Pleasantries aside, his intense gaze flickered between my boyfriend and I as he quizzed as about our employment. My mumbling boyfriend repeated twice that he worked as a flight test engineer. Not only did I have to explain that I was an Uber driver, he asked me about my previous place of employment and why I quit.

“The boss was terrible.” I said with a smile.

He didn’t laugh.

Instead he stared aghast as I explained that no, I did not carry a weapon in my car to defend myself against Uber riders. We passed, though not with flying colors. I continued driving along 15 North, searching for Route 1 and the road to Squamish.

The next adrenaline filled jolt was not at the beautiful suspension bridge or the large concrete overpass. We passed peacefully through the typical obstructions and I grew confident on the roads as they melted. Soon I was sailing at 70kph along the suburb of West Vancouver. The road dipped suddenly and I frantically noted the field of 6 inch deep snow at the bottom.

My foot flew off of the gas pedal and started lightly tapping the brakes. The asphalt disappeared beneath a white cloud. Only 30 feet ahead of me, I saw a white SUV weave back and forth. My elbows locked and my hands gripped the wheel. Quickly, the white turned to the black of asphalt once more. I aligned the car between the white lines again. Then I laughed.

It was after 11pm before we arrived at our AirBnb, but Nancy with the Mountain View room was waiting up for us. She graciously welcomed us and offered cookies. I took one with relief, happy to finally lower my tensed shoulders. 6 hours until we left again for Whistler. We slept.

The alarm went off in the pre-dawn light in Squamish. Outside the window, at least four inches of snow coated the car we’d parked only hours before. We left the house dressed in our ski clothes and took turns brushing the snow off of the car. The nearby tree dropped snow down my boyfriend neck as he inched toward the front door. Once inside, he started the car and put it in reverse. Snow piled up behind us as we plowed the top two inches. A Subaru Legacy does not have much clearance.

We made it to Whistler before the road closed behind us. As always, we stopped at the first parking lot. Arriving at 7:30am, we’d hoped to do the Ski and Breakfast special. This special allowed a few hundred skiers to go up the mountain early and eat a large buffet breakfast as the rest of us waited in line for the lifts to open. At the time, we didn’t know we’d need to go to Whistler Village to take the gondola up for breakfast. Instead, we ate our Starbucks and drank our cold coffee in line with the other skiers.

But it was worth getting up early. As we exited the first gondola, the entire area was laid with 8 inches of powder. Powder skis gracefully darted across its surface. We skied too, but with our old skinny skis at least 3 inches beneath the powdery surface. It was still fun, even in the flat light and somewhat windy conditions. The trails are so expansive, as wide as a freeway in some places. For the first few hours, there was always some powder to hunt down and explore.

Halfway through the day, we went to Whistler Village and got drunk on mulled wine. An old Irish pub, reconstructed in Whistler, was the perfect place to warm up. The fish and chips tasted divine, though the banana split put them to shame. Caramel ice cream is hard to beat. Combine this with the selection of hot alcoholic drinks, we were quite pleased.

Two long runs later, we headed toward the car. Our legs were weak. It was our first full ski day this year. In the warmth (and diesel smell) of the covered parking lot, we slumped into the car with relief. It would only be a small adventure to get back to our AirBnb in Squamish for hot showers. The road had opened up again.

For dinner, we explored downtown Squamish. It was still snowing. On the main road, we saw The Copper Coil. It had been recommended to me, so we stopped. The waitress greeted us warmly and brought us two beers, both local lagers, within 5 minutes. We decided to split a giant meal of chicken and ribs, with a side of the daily soup. As good as the ribs were, the potato soup was the most delicious. The restaurant had a smoker on-site and the smoked bacon made the dish. We left, stuffed way too full. With a bottle of wine from the local liquor store, we drank and were asleep by 9pm.

In the morning, we made it to Lion’s Gate Village near North Vancouver before stopping for breakfast. There was one cafe and we went to it gladly. The local roasted coffee was excellent. My Americano was served in a tall blue coffee mug, much better than the plain white one holding my boyfriend’s latte. The bagels were uninspiring, but bagels are bagels. The cinnamon rolls oozing with white glaze looked more appetizing, but we stuck with a more sturdy breakfast.

Our trip down to Seattle was similar to our trip up, minus the car crash. We also got through the border gate more easily this time, though we had to surrender our blood oranges. Apparently, no citrus can cross country borders into the USA. Bellingham was a snowy wonderland and the snow did not abate until we had almost reached Everett. Over the next twenty-four hours, Seattle would get buried in four inches of snow as well.

Thanks to his snow experience over the weekend, my boyfriend got to work on Monday without a problem.