Michelle Wittle On a Writer’s Portfolio

Michelle Wittle On, Writing Tips

I remember as a little girl, I would watch my dad run to the mailbox. I just assumed he was waiting for a check because why else would a grown man run to the mailbox every day? He would come back into the house, ripping open another envelope and his face would be filled with anticipation. With shaking hands, he would drag the letter out of its holder and then his face would just drop. His head would even fall a bit onto his chest. Becoming aware of his little girl looking up at him, he would shake off whatever news he read in that letter. Looking down at me, he would tap me on the head and say, “not this time.”

I would run off and play with my Barbie dolls (there was always some kind of big drama going on in my land of Barbie and this time one of my Barbie’s got into a car accident and she died. However, she was still haunting Ken because Ken couldn’t get over her death. Even though Ken already had a new girlfriend, he still loved the dead Barbie and she wanted him to move on. This explains a lot…doesn’t it?) and my dad would take this red scrapbook out and begin gluing the recent letter in the book. As it was drying, he would continue to stare at it and shake his head.

Years after my father’s death, I found that red scrapbook. I had to look in it! Sure, I felt like I was reaching into my dad’s diary and at any moment he would turn the corner and whack me in the head, but the curiosity was too strong. I needed to read what was so important in those letters that my father had to not only keep them, but also put them in a scrapbook.

“Dear L.L. Wittle:

Thank you for you recent submission to “We Aren’t Publishing You” magazine.  Although your story was very well written and your characters were brilliantly crafted, at this time we cannot publish your work.

Best of luck to you in your future writings.


Mr. Mean Editor”

It went on like that for pages. On each page were at least four cut up letters resembling the one I crafted above. Oh and p.s., that magazine…I just made that up.

On one hand I understand the need to want to keep these rejection letters around. It can help you want to fight harder for a spot in some publication. When you get that acceptance letter, maybe you want to copy it and send it to all of the people who rejected you. Even in the movie, “Running With Scissors” Augusten Burroughs’ mom was cutting up all her rejection letters to put them in a collage on her writing table.

At one time, I would have suggested that writers should hold on to these rejection letters. But now, I think you should make a spreadsheet on excel. Import all the places you sent your story to and when the rejection letter comes, just mark a little “n” in the column for “published” and then shred that letter. There is no need to carry those letters with us and I really think they do us no good.

If you keep holding on to these rejection letters, you are going to start believing no one will ever publish you. This will then stop you from sending your work out. Now really, how does THAT help you become a published author?

When I was in creative writing class in high school, we had this picture we had to respond to in some way. The quote under the picture was, “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.” I am in no way saying what you have written is trash. I am saying that just because one magazine didn’t like it, doesn’t mean all magazines will hate it as well.

Instead of making a rejection letter portfolio like my father did, I highly suggest you make a published portfolio. So what if you only have on thing in it? At least you have one thing in it. Holding onto all that negative energy…those negative and cold rejection letters will only hurt you and you might even start to believe them. On the other hand, if you have a place to put all your published work this will only encourage you to send more of your work out. You will want to fill up that book.

At the end of the day, positive reinforcement is more powerful then negative. I know at times it doesn’t seem that way, but train your mind to see it that way. Then watch your writing portfolio fill up.


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