For most writers of short fiction or poetry, publishing your writing in top-tier literary journals is the goal (Yes, we write because we love it, but we also write because we want our ideas, our thoughts, our worlds to be shared with others.) Acceptances are great; however, don’t underestimate the value of personal rejections.
I don’t remember the exact quote, but I believe that Charles Bukowski, in a clip from Born Into This, explained what he read into his early literary rejections: “It’s not that you’re not good, son—it’s that you’re not good enough.”
If you are receiving personal rejections from competitive literary journals, you ought to be downright ecstatic. While of course acceptances are the goal, personal rejections are hard to come by in the literary world. The criticisms you receive may cut to the bone. Still, for your own sanity, you should be aware what the editor is doing is performing a service. S/he took time out of their busy schedule to offer their thoughts. If your work wasn’t close to making it, an editor would have responded with a form rejection.
As writers, we have a misguided tendency to believe that our work is always without flaw. It never is. However, if you receive a personal rejection for a piece, know that you are VERY close. Know that you are knowledgeable enough to be submitting your work to appropriate markets. Know that you are skilled enough of a writer to warrant a response. You’re on the right path. Personal rejections are good. Let them spur you on to making the necessary changes and finding a new journal to publish your work!
And please, whatever you do, don’t try to argue with the editor’s points. Just don’t.