You know how when you learned to make pie, it was good, but not great, and then as time went on, you learned more things about how to do it right, and your pies just got better and better? Just me? Okay. Well, pick something you’ve gotten gradually good at. Or, I know, I’ll pick something that most of us have experienced, and it just happens to be at the heart of this whole project.
I first learned to write when I was little, as most of you did. Maybe you wrote in Braille, or with a keyboard and mouthstick, or maybe in a different language from mine, but most of us learned to write. When I first learned, though, I didn’t do it very well at all. Not only did my letters not look much like letters, but just the act of writing hurt my hand; my fingers felt all cramped and unnatural, and my teacher didn’t like the way I held my pencil (remember pencils?) so I got swatted a fair bit (remember teachers being allowed to swat students? No? Yeah, I’m old).
Anyway, I wasn’t good at it, and I didn’t especially like it, but it certainly was expected of me. Not only that, but it opened up lots of opportunities to do things I did like, like making lists (yes, even baby nerd me wrote lots of lists) and writing letters to my friends.
Being bad at it in the beginning didn’t mean I wasn’t able to get good at it eventually. And I’m just talking about the mechanics of writing things down. Creative writing is more than just drawing letters on paper, but there’s a similar thing going on: we learn and grow and improve, and just because we weren’t as good at it a year ago as we are today doesn’t mean we are always going to get it right, and even if we do get it right, that’s no guarantee people will like it.
Many of us think of being bad at something as a reason not to do it. I confess I feel that way about visual art. I’m terrible at drawing, so I don’t draw. Thing is, though, the stage of being bad at something is, in nearly 100% of cases, not an obstacle to being good at it. Rather, it’s necessary to becoming good at it.
If you’re a working writer, or you want to be, you are either going to have to become a one-person publishing concern and publish all your own work, or you’re going to have to submit your writing to markets so it can be published. And if you are in the vast majority of working writers, most of your works will be rejected.
I am here to help you to celebrate that rejection. To use that rejection to help you get better, and get published more.
Because I read Stephen King’s On Writing twenty years ago, I already celebrate my own rejection slips. If you haven’t read that book, I highly recommend it. I re-read it every couple of years, and I’m reading it now. Because of the section in his book about rejection slips, I keep them, hang them on the wall, count them as a reminder that I’m a working writer. But I don’t submit enough, partly out of laziness, partly busyness, and partly fear of failure.
A Quotidian Writer video encouraged me to start this project. That video in turn links to an article by Kim Liao on LitHub called “Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections a Year.” And that article references the On Writing bit that encouraged me to embrace the rejections.
Instead of just celebrating my rejections when they come, I’m now going to actively try to have MORE of them!
I am shooting for 100 rejections in 2021, and I hope you will set a rejection goal for yourself, as well. Along the way, I’ll share some other tips and tricks for being a productive, happy writer who sometimes even gets published.
Just for my reference, I am going to put in my Duotrope stats for the years in which I’ve tracked submissions on there. I avoided them for a while as a sort of boycott (long story), but I’ve been tracking again for a bit, so here goes:
2007: 28 rejections, 1 acceptance
2011: 8 rejections, 0 acceptances
2012: 1 rejection, 1 acceptance
2013; 2 rejections, 0 acceptances
2017: 28 rejections, 3 acceptances
2018: 5 rejections, 0 acceptances
2020: 8 rejections, 1 acceptance
I currently have nine poems and one story out in the world to be looked at. If I’m going to get 100 rejections, I’m going to need to get on the stick and submit a lot more work.
Here is the text of my most recent rejection letter:
Thank you for your submission ‘Three poems (“New Old World Lament,” “Fields,” “7cm papillary carcinoma, left lobe, Stage II”)’ to our magazine. While we enjoyed it, we have decided not to accept it for this issue.
Please wait two months before sending us new work, but please feel free to try us again.
And I will. I really will.