Yet another thing I am grateful to the Clarion experience for is my new attitude towards rejection.
Before that wonderful and amazing crash course in what it is (or at least might be) like to be a professional writer, I had never submitted anything to a publisher. Okay, I did submit one thing a couple of weeks before I went, but only had the cojones to do so because I'd been accepted to Clarion. I was totally punching above my weight-class, too, though for what it's worth they still haven't sent me my rejection, so the hope is still alive, however feeble.
But before I realized just how much rejection is part of the game, and an integral part at that, my very first one would have been devastating, because I would only have sent something I had gone over and over and over again, obssessively, until every detail was just perfect (I sometimes lose whole hours and days of writing time fiddling with the prose of the sections I've already written), and would only have been able to bring myself to risk the inevitable rejection after I was convinced that the piece just couldn't be any better.
It might even have been the case (works of art are never finished, only abandoned), but I might have picked the wrong market, sent it somewhere it didn't quite fit. Any number of reasons exist why it might not have been right. I was, at the time, almost pathologically averse to learning about the nuts and bolts of the business side of publishing (hey man, I'm an artist 'n shit), and so I would have taken that rejection as a reason to go back into my cave and fiddle with my prose style for another few years before trying again.
Yeah, I know, I'm a bit oversensitive.
But now I know that you're not a real writer until you can wallpaper a medium-sized room with rejection slips, and that a rejection is not necessarily a judgement of the quality of your story (though sometimes it is) but a judgement about whether and how it fits with a particular market's aesthetic and backlog.
And I have learned to make some distinctions among kinds of rejections, and to take encouragement from the amount of time it takes to receive them. Basically, the longer it takes, the more they're willing to consider your story for publication (or, they're just really backed up). And then there's the form rejection ('Thank you for your interest in our magazine. We are, unfortunately, not able to publish your story at this time.') vs. the personal, where the editor (or, more likely, one of the editor's minions) writes you a few lines about why they can't accept your story, which has its own gradations, some of which are obvious (they like your story but it doesn't fit, for example) and some less so. For instance, you can often tell a bit about how far you got by who sent the rejection. The editor, after all, will often only see a story after at least one (and, I think, often more) person has read it, approved, and passed it on. So if you got your rejection from a slush reader, you know you didn't make it out of the slush pile, but at least your whole story got read, since slush readers read with an eye for any reason at all to stop reading, so as to continue addressing the generally considerable backlog of material. If you got your rejection from an assistant editor, then that tells you something, as well.
At present, my highest acheivement has been a brief personal letter of rejection from Sheila Williams, editor of Asimov's, which made me feel quite warm and fuzzy on the inside, and filled me with hope that I might be closer than I think, which is pretty freakin' awesome, if you ask me.
Besides, after spending one morning a week having twenty or so literary badasses tell me at some length what I'd done wrong with the story I submitted to them last night, which I'd generally spent hours and days wrestling forth from my creative unconscious and hammering into shape, it's hard to imagine any busy editor taking the time and energy it would require for a rejection to even tickle.
That's what I tell myself, anyway.