I got a straight out flat rejection of an essay from a journal today, which has only happened to me once, maybe twice before. and quite frankly, i was surprised--I think the essay is pretty strong, and one reviewer seems to have thought it was well written. But I ran into, as far as I could tell, some readers with very different world views who simply would not accept my premises. Powerful lesson on the limits of good writing: the well crafted essay going up against firmly held beliefs will lose out to those beliefs every time. That's why I think I had better keep my submissions going to journals with more open-minded readers.
Getting rejected, however, seems to have lit a fire under me. I spent a couple of hours revising a project that has been accepted, and then I started on a new book chapter tonight. Maybe I thought I would just cruise through the year, getting the now-rejected piece accepted, getting the other piece I sent out last week accepted, appearing productive and smart to friends and colleagues. But boy, when you get a flat out rejection, you realize that you have sunk X amount of time into some sort of whole. All that time and effort might actually result in nothing--only questions like "what have you been doing with your time?"
The rejected piece and the piece I am revising both received some comments that I find especially frustrating as a writer. In both pieces, I explain that I am doing X because of Y, and both pieces had readers say, "no, I don't want you to do that." I am open to the fact that they might be right, but they don't even provide the "y". They just say, "don't do X." And both sets of readers, quite frankly, did not seem to read certain parts of my essay very carefully. Again, I need to remain open minded and accept the fact that maybe the confusion is a writing problem that I can fix, but I sure wish readers would try to read a little more carefully. All these lessons are good ones for me as I am on the verge of collecting some student work.