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”

Hello, New Year

At the beginning of every new year, I like to take stock of where I’ve been and where I’m heading in my life. This past year was a regrouping year for me. I spent a lot of energy investigating whether or not I’ve been on the best path, how I got to where I am, how to redirect myself toward more authenticity.

I continue to struggle, as I always have, with simply being comfortable in my own skin. I realize the phrase has become cliché, but it describes well how I literally experience my life.

I tried some things in 2016 that were new for me, but overall it was a year of laying low, of going within, of retreating. I suppose, then, that I shouldn’t be surprised at not having accomplished as much as I would have liked. I’m not surprised, yet I’m still disappointed, because letting myself off the hook continues to be one of my challenges.

Learning how to be enough just as I am would be the ultimate achievement, I think. Learning to be brave in all of my words and actions would be a worthy accomplishment as well. Continue reading “Hello, New Year”

Evolution Revolution

I feel an evolution happening within me—a revolution really. I’m beginning to feel free in a way I haven’t before. I’m beginning to feel settled, on the inside.

For decades, I’ve been trying to figure out how to live authentically. I recognized when I was in my mid-twenties that I was struggling to allow myself to be seen. I had developed a habit of hiding behind what I’ve come to think of as my costume, the outer me that I projected to all others.

On the inside, I was someone different from the person everyone thought they knew. I had learned how to observe what people expected from me, what made people respond to me, and how to contort myself into these shapes. When I was very young, I wasn’t conscious of doing this. But as I matured into adulthood, I became aware of the disconnect between my inner and outer selves. It manifested as a tension that threatened to rip me apart. I managed to cross the breaking point without being swallowed, and I’ve been slowly making my way across the other side ever since.

But I’m still not living authentically. Yes, it’s gotten a lot easier to reveal myself in some situations, but there are still too many instances when I bend and twist myself. Why do I do this?

Continue reading “Evolution Revolution”

Talking about Adoption in Public Spaces

My journey into the public realm of adoption discourse began with two life-changing interactions: I found and reunited with my birth mother during the time frame that I was getting to know my husband’s adult adopted son. I was in my thirties.

Reuniting with birth family meant I learned for the first time about the beginning of my life, that missing piece that had prevented my story from being whole. I heard my mother say she had not wanted to relinquish me, that she was given no other option. I heard her say she had not understood that the name she gave me would ever be changed. I wanted to understand what she’d gone through during her pregnancy and my birth, so I sought information about adoption in the late 1960s and I discovered Ann Fessler’s book The Girls Who Went Away. I learned that I was a product of a historical period in the U.S. called the Baby Scoop Era, so I sought information on what that meant. I wanted to understand how I had lost my original name, and I discovered that I’d had another birth certificate when I was born. For more than thirty years of my life, I had not known that I originally had a different birth certificate than the only one I’d ever seen.

Hearing my new stepson’s story meant I learned for the first time that my experience of being adopted was not an anomaly. I first heard his story from my husband’s point of view, so I heard that he had been adopted from Korea in the mid-1970s; that he was estimated to be four years old though his actual birth date was unknown; that he understood no English when he arrived in the U.S.; that he preferred sleeping on the floor rather than in a bed; that when he first saw a TV he inched over to it and held his fingers out to touch. This story was far different from the one I’d been told about myself. Continue reading “Talking about Adoption in Public Spaces”