How to Bake a Rejection Pie–A Poem in Honor of Short Story Rejections

In honor of losing yet another short story contest, I declare it time to write poetry. Found poetry, that is, since the following lines are excerpts from the hundreds of rejections I’ve received for my short story manuscripts. I think they make a rather sweet pie of rejection.

Image found at

Thank you for your submission.

We have carefully considered your submission.

We wish we could respond more personally to your submission.

We read your submission respectfully and with care.

Please know we read and appreciate every submission
and it pains us
a little
to be resorting to such a standard reply,
but submissions
keep coming in
and the hours keep
slipping away and
what is one to do.

We respectfully ask that you wait at least one month before submitting more work for our consideration.

We get a lot of submissions and can only use a fraction of them,
so please understand that this No most likely means
“Not Quite the Right Fit,” not “No Good.”

Because we read so many stories,
it is not possible for us to give specific feedback,
but, if you’re a relative beginner,
you may find something of interest here: Editors’ Input.

We receive many
compelling, (sic)
stories, but can only take a very limited number due to constraints of space and style.

We were literally shocked at the quality of so many of the entries.

Even quality work often has to be declined.

We appreciate your willingness to entrust us with your writing.

Our editorial staff and needs change for each issue,
so I hope you will consider submitting your work to us in the future.

However, we particularly enjoyed “Retrograde” and hope
you will keep us in mind for future submissions.

One of our editors would like to leave you some personalized comments,
so look for an email regarding “Retrograde” soon.

There was much to be liked in this story, and it got some good comments from our readers.
But alas, it still just didn’t seem to work for us.
I’d be happy to see you submit something the next reading period, which is now open.
Best of luck finding a home for this story.

Unfortunately this particular piece was not a right fit for The St. Petersburg Review,
but we were very impressed by your writing.
We hope that you will feel encouraged by this short note and send us something else.

Iron Horse Review: About your manuscript (“By the Water”), our editors said: Okay, this story is very, very good. The father is rendered in great detail and is consistent, and the three boys are all clearly distinguishable from one another. The story, moving. At the end, though, the conflict with Jeremiah seems unresolved, and that conflict seems to be the most important, next to the protagonist’s own internal conflict. So we were just a little dissatisfied by the ending. But boy, that swimming pool scene is really nice.

The New Yorker: We really enjoyed this story of a father and his three sons; it was very tender and at times even humorous.

The Missouri Review: Lyn, Thank you for sending us your work titled “By the Water” for publishing consideration. Though this piece will not work for us, we encourage you to keep sending your work, as your talented writing style is one we look to promote through our publications. Your eye for detail and subtle humor are apparent throughout this piece, we congratulate you for excellent technique and hope to review your work in the future.
Sincerely, The Editors

We wish you success in placing your work elsewhere.

Never mind what we say. Keep writing!

To a Friend

Hey, You.
Hanging on by a cuticle and various shreds.
This is not your freaky Future.
This is not your petty Past
or even the Present.
This is a test flight,
Apollo flaming up at ground zero,
and You racing out, hair on fire.

You got this.
You, like
Lucille say, a city of a woman.
No one can contain You.

The shadow artists,
the impostors,
the lazy victims,
scrabbling at the edges,
they may leave toothmarks,
graze the bone,
but they take no flesh.

They don’t know You.

Just so You know…

No one can stop the laughter,
Source springing eternal,
the beautiful madness and beauty within.
Crayzee was never this good.

See that funnel cloud on the horizon,
spinning your way?
Duck and cover,
and hold fast to that which bears loads
and carries our water.
And rise again,
Rise again!

— Dedicated to my friend Teresa

Today’s Word Count for the Novel: 117,688. 1490 words removed.
Page Count for the novel: 428

Last night I attended an inspirational talk at the Pittsboro Library, given by Ruth Moose, a poet, short story writer, and professor at UNC. Talk about effervescent! She is a role model for teachers everywhere. She reminded me that joy is what we must bring to learning and speaking, not pride or fear. She reminded me that every moment is a chance to celebrate, and poetry is a perfect choice. How lucky are we to have words to play with?

Poetry is also a way to console oneself and others. It’s a way to grieve.

Though I wouldn’t call myself a regular poet, I went home and wrote this first draft of a poem in tribute to a friend. I chose poetry as a way to love my friend and speak out against frustrations, pettiness, and sheer wrongs…all the ways that man has “bleared” and “smeared” things. I feel better when I see art take shape.

We all need to be doing daily poetry, before-bedtime poetry, in-the-car poetry, office cubicle poetry, rogue poetry, strange poetry, mouth-off poetry. I will stop calling myself a maybe poet and own poetry as art to love and try as often as I can.

I’m blessed to be in a women’s writing group that honors all kinds of writing. Last night we each brought our favorite poems, from You Are My I Love You, a children’s book by Maryann Cusimano, to Pablo Neruda reminding us of our “roots,” to Mary Oliver telling us how birds in a field of thistle tell us how to stop, to Thomas Merton reminding us our strength, all perfect celebrations with words, and we each wrote in response to whatever moved us. So much depends…upon poetry!

Writing Goal: Finish hard-copy edits on 28 more pages while entering edits electronically for the prior 22. My ultimate aim: 150,000 – 170,000 words and a complete fourth draft ready for hard-copy editing by the time of a retreat to consider the novel in a few days, to really get a glimpse of it as a whole.

I am also revising a short story and an essay.

Writing Prompts: Please note that writing prompts should always be pursued in emotionally-safe environments with the supervision of someone who interested in encouraging good writing, self-awareness, and reflection. A wonderful resource is Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others.

© Lyn Hawks. Writing prompts for one-time classroom use only and not for publication in any form elsewhere without permission of this author.


Option #1: Helping a Friend

Do you know someone who is hurting? Do you have a friend who needs some help?

There are many ways we can help another person. List your favorite ways to help someone else. What are you particularly good at doing that might help someone else? Can you crack a good joke? Can you do a funny dance? Can you help with chores or write a special note? Can you invite the person to share or do something with you?

Write about a time when you helped a friend or when a friend helped you.

Option #2: Making Me Feel Small

Has anyone ever accused you of something you didn’t do? Or has someone told you that they don’t appreciate or like you very much?

Describe how you felt. Choose one or more of the following sentences to get started:

“I felt so small that…”
“I felt as angry as a…”
“I was so confused that I…”
“I felt more scared than a…”
“I wanted to…”
“If it ever happens again, I will…”

How many ways can you describe how you felt?

If you want a bigger challenge, turn your story into a children’s book that teaches kids not to do what happened to you. Make up a story using animals, plants, or magical people to tell your version of the story in a way that children can understand.

Option #3: Strong as a…

There are many things in life that are strong. People might use expressions such as, “She’’s strong as an ox!” or “He’s a rock.” We often use things in nature to help us describe strength.

Draw pictures of all the things in nature you know are very, very strong. Perhaps they are

— unbreakable
— bigger than many other things
— heavier than other things
— able to destroy
— able to stand up to water or wind
— able to stand up to fire or heat
— able to resist damage

Write a note from the very strong thing to the rest of the world. Let this mineral, plant, animal, or other natural element have its say. The first sentence might be, “Let me tell you why I’m so strong. I’m so strong that…”

Secondary and Adult

Option #1: Helping a Friend

As we age, our definition of friendship evolves. What are all the ways we might help a friend?

Look at the list below. Choose one way of helping that reminds you of a moment of friendship. Tell the story of how this way helped you or someone else.

— speaking up when no one else would
— staying silent
— sharing an experience
— giving an object that might mean nothing to other people
— sharing a compliment
— telling the truth

Option #2: Making Me Feel Small

Why do people bully? Why do sometimes we wish to make others feel badly, or small? Why must we act superior?

There are many reasons, such as pride, jealousy, and meanness. Take a moment to think about someone who really bothers you, gets under your skin, and even haunts you. This is a person you really wouldn’t miss if he or she left the country. Wait a minute! How did your feelings get so strong?

Find what it is about this person that makes you “act small.” In other words, why do you find yourself unable to follow the Golden Rule, to be compassionate, to cut this person a break? This person does not control your actions, and yet, you act small when you think of the person or see the person.

Help yourself make sense of this.

Option #3: Strong as a…

We often use natural phenomena to help us describe strength.

Draw pictures of all the things in nature you know possess incredible strength. Perhaps they are

— unbreakable
— bigger than many other things
— heavier than other things
— able to destroy
— able to stand up to water or wind
— able to stand up to fire or heat
— able to resist damage

Be the voice of this element of nature. Write its testament, poem, or song of pride.

Filed Under: poetry