A Year of No

I committed to myself in 2016 that I would make more of an effort to get my writing out into the world. I submitted my work to publications more often last year than ever before. For the writers among my readers, here’s a breakdown of how that went:

I submitted individual pieces (poems, essays, and stories) 70 times, to 25 different outlets. Twice I submitted directly to an editor; the other times, I submitted via whatever means the publication specified on their website—Submittable, some other system, or email. I drafted multiple versions of cover letters as well as my biography, tailoring them for specific markets. I reported most of my submissions on Duotrope, which I’ve been using for several years. I also began keeping track of my intentions and outcomes for specific pieces and markets on a spreadsheet.

In some cases, I responded to calls for themed submissions; other times, I fervently searched for the best home for a piece; occasionally, I entered contests. I spent $12 on sample issues and $15 on contest fees.

I’ve now received answers for all but one of those 70 submissions. The one that is outstanding is a contest entry for which I paid a small fee; I’ve been waiting over 7 months for a response that was due before autumn. All of the responses I have received have been rejections, except for one. A poem was accepted, then the editor requested an edit, and in the course of our conversation about the edit, the editor requested more edits, and it got to the point that if I made all the edits requested, the poem would no longer be what I wanted it to be, so I withdrew it. I withdrew an essay because the market I submitted it to unexpectedly went on extended hiatus. I withdrew a set of poems after waiting 9 months for a response that never came. I received two personal notes; all the rest were form rejections. Most markets took 2-3 months to reply.

Early in the year, I applied for a grant and was turned down, although the rejection letter included some kind feedback about my sample piece. The application cost me $15.

I also put together a chapbook of poems that I’d written over the previous several years and sent it out to some chapbook contests. Most of the contests I researched required a fee, some as high as $28, so I had to be choosy in order to keep the cost down. I settled on 7 contests, with fees ranging from $10 to $20; in total, I spent $101. Only one publisher promised a copy of the winning chapbook to every contest entrant—you rock, Gold Line Press! One press responded after only 2 weeks and I waited on another for over 8 months; most returned a decision in 4-5 months. I didn’t win any of the contests I entered, nor did anyone agree to publish my chapbook, but I did earn one honorable mention, from Concrete Wolf.

What do I make of all this?

If nothing else, this past year was a lesson in how to handle rejection. The hard truth is that either I chose markets that weren’t the best fit for my work or my work wasn’t good enough to wow an editor. I suspect that some of both was true, depending on the work and market in question. Having my writing turned down so many times brought on waves of depression. But I expected rejections to get me down, and I worked through it. It’s hard not to doubt yourself when you keep hearing “no.” I gave myself plenty of pep talks throughout the year, and I also made an effort to connect with other local writers so that I wouldn’t feel too hopeless. It always helps to be reminded that all of us who write will have work rejected, and that this doesn’t mean we should give up.

A lot of positives came out of this year of no. I’ve created a system for keeping track of what I’m working on, what I’ve completed, and where I’ve submitted. I’ve become much more familiar with literary publications that feel like homes where I’d want my work to live. I’m doing more deep reading and I’m understanding better what I want to achieve in my writing. I’m learning to let go of my ingrained need to impress in favor of striving to make myself proud. I want to feel satisfied that the work I send out into the world accurately reflects what I hoped to achieve and is the best that I could have accomplished at that moment in time. I want to slow down when I’m creating, but be brave in sending out work once I’ve decided to call it done. Rather than viewing this past year as one of failure, I’m embracing my rekindled desire to continue learning and developing my writing craft. I’m more determined to push myself further when that instinct to play it safe and hold back tries either to sabotage my work or to convince me to hide it away.

But probably the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that I need to let go of so many expectations. It’s more important to allow myself time to dwell in the unknown, to sit with questions and to give myself permission to follow my curiosity wherever it goes. I must let go of what I imagined a writing life would be and embrace the reality of what this particular writing life needs to be for me.



I’m participating in Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge. This is #8 of 52. 





No Time to Waste on Haste

I find it difficult to give up on anything I’ve written. I don’t like the feeling of putting time and effort into a piece only to see it fail, so I tend to stick with crappy older work too long.

I’m reminded of college, the first time, right after high school. Before I got there, I’d decided to major in computer science, but before I finished, I knew I’d made the wrong choice. I didn’t stop, though. I didn’t change my major. I felt too invested in it, in terms of both time and money, to start all over. I was impatient to begin my adult life. Never mind that I’d been an adult already, working a full time job, for several years. I’d assumed the identity of computer-science-major-who-will-graduate-and-get-a-high-paying-job-with-a-guaranteed-pension-and-medical-insurance. Not because I cared very much about computer science and not because I couldn’t make a life working the job I already had. I built my identity around what I thought I was supposed to want and do as a high school honor student whose parents preached stability. To not finish college, or even to prolong my time there by changing my major, would be to fail, in my mind. I was determined to finish what I’d started, and I felt I was running against the clock of my life.

What followed was nearly a decade of heartache. I graduated and I got that so-called great job, but the longer I had it, the more miserable I became. By not giving up on a poorly chosen college major, I’d given up on myself. Continue reading “No Time to Waste on Haste”

Combating Chaos

Too much is happening too quickly, and every day I feel sucked into the chaos. This is a bad time to be a worrier.

On Friday evening into Saturday as the effects of the new president’s travel ban became apparent, I could not force myself away from the news reports. I could not escape the sense that I was witnessing all that I so loved about my country slipping away. The laws we enacted to protect the vulnerable are proving to be much more tenuous than we assumed they’d be. It’s been too easy these first two weeks for the new administration to annihilate laws. And there seems to be no one with any power willing to be a hero of the people.

By the end of the day on Saturday, my joints ached and my chest felt tight. All I wanted to do was cover myself with a blanket, have a stiff drink, and detach. And I’m not an immigrant or a refugee. My skin color is the same as that of the men who penned our Constitution. I will not be personally violated by the ban or the wall. But I am a citizen of this country, and I care.

I am a person who often feels too much. When I read about people being put on planes and sent back to dangerous places where they have no home or resources, I cannot be neutral. When I read about children unable to be united with their parents, I am reading as a mother, and I know the pain I would feel if I was helpless to keep my children out of danger. I don’t understand how anyone hearing these stories cannot feel this pain, how anyone can turn their back while people are being treated this way. Continue reading “Combating Chaos”

Channeling My Twitter Obsession Into Poetry

Not sure if I’ve mentioned it here before, but I love Twitter. Some might say I’m a little obsessed with it.

One drawback of this is that I frequently find myself sucked into drama on Twitter surrounding some social or political issue. I love the access to people and ideas from all over the world, but it can also get overwhelming. At times I’ve had to step away completely to recenter myself. Plus, as with any social media platform, time tends to evaporate when one gets dragged into these dramas, so it’s necessary to put on the brakes in order to get anything of substance accomplished.

That’s not to say that I think Twitter is petty or inconsequential. I believe that Twitter, and to a lesser extent Facebook, are radically altering how social and political problems are understood and addressed in this country, because these platforms facilitate such timely and broad communication.

One day not very long ago, I was scrolling through conflicting political opinions on Twitter and I was struck with the idea of making a poem out of them. And so, in the ephemeral spirit of Twitter, I’ve created a quick and dirty site called Hashtag Snapshots where I’ve begun to post found poems that I typically whip up in one day based on a single hashtag that has captured my interest and won’t release my brain until I give it its due.

Yesterday I felt compelled to address the #Kaepernick controversy. I welcome your thoughts and reactions. If you’re interested in my methodology for creating the poems, it’s here.

The project is on Twitter (of course): @HashtagSnapshot

The Right Thing

I’ve been in a period of regrouping as of late. I’ve felt off track, or off the right track.

This isn’t the first time. I have a long history of becoming deeply involved in the wrong thing. I’m actually doing much better these days than back when I was a younger adult who stuck it out too long in the wrong relationships and the wrong career and ended up so sick I couldn’t leave my house.

I’ve learned how to let go of the wrong things sooner and how to avoid getting involved in absolutely wrong things in the first place.

I’m doing better. These days when I realize I’ve wandered onto the wrong path, it’s at least a path somewhere in the neighborhood of the right path. I know this, even if I haven’t yet figured out where the exact right path is. I’m close. I can feel it.

Still, there’s room for improvement. I would like not to be so susceptible to being led astray. It’s not even the lure of bright shiny things that woos me. It’s that I want so badly to be part of something meaningful, I’ll follow the wrong path too far, for too long. Continue reading “The Right Thing”