100 Rejections

j-k-rowling-on-rejection_peoplewhowriteI can’t tell you how much I loved this. I think, as a writer, we look for pick me ups anywhere we can get them. The fact is, the job is weird. It doesn’t happen from 9:00 to 5:00. It doesn’t necessarily happen in a suit and tie. It involves a lot (A LOT) of rejection. This can be hard for our hardworking, traditionally paid loved ones to understand.

First, writing can seem like a luxury. You sit about all day in jeans, sip coffee at a local shop with your laptop flipped open as you people watch, and daydream. That’s honest. Writers are often daydreamers. I’m a daydreamer. I’m a hard worker. I feel the very real satisfaction of checking things off my to-do list. Daydreaming and hard work aren’t mutually exclusive characteristics. But our jobs can look easy from the outside looking in.

Second, after someone takes a closer look everything can look less than rosy. Have you ever seen someone jump up and exclaim in glee at getting a rejection letter? You won’t. Even the most seasoned, brilliant authors get rejection letters. Worse, there are times you never get a letter. Months pass and eventually you either forget your work is out there getting rejected or you know that someone read it, discarded it, and was just too busy accepting and rejecting other people’s work to respond to yours. It’s the reality of writing. To those who don’t do it, it can cause them to wonder why another human being would ever subject themselves to such punishment. There are times writers themselves ask this.

So for every writer who is out there, stuck in that stage of wondering why, again, you do this take a look at Kim Liao’s article

Last year, I got rejected 43 times by literary magazines, residencies, and fellowships—my best record since I started shooting for getting 100 rejections per year. It’s harder than it sounds, but also more gratifying.

In late 2011, a writer friend was sharing her experiences of having months of uninterrupted writing time at her residencies at the Millay Colony, Ragdale, and Yaddo. I was staggered by her impressive rates of acceptance. You probably have one of those friends, too—you know the one I’m talking about, that friend who is a beautiful writer, but who also seems to win everything? I could barely believe that she had the balls to apply to—let alone, get accepted to—several residencies, a prestigious fellowship, and publications in journals I had actually heard of.

I asked her what her secret was, and she said something that would change my professional life as a writer: “Collect rejections. Set rejection goals. I know someone who shoots for one hundred rejections in a year, because if you work that hard to get so many rejections, you’re sure to get a few acceptances, too.”

This small piece of advice struck a deep chord in my fragile creative ego. My vulnerable ego only wants to be loved and accepted, to have my words ring out from a loudspeaker in Times Square while a neon ticker scrolls the text across a skyscraper, but it’s a big old coward. My ego resists mustering up the courage to submit writing to literary magazines, pitch articles, and apply for grants, residencies, and fellowships. Yet these painful processes are necessary evils if we are ever to climb out of our safe but hermetic cocoons of isolation and share our writing with the world. Perhaps aiming for rejection, a far more attainable goal, would take some of the sting out of this ego-bruising exercise—which so often feels like an exercise in futility.

And in my own effort to release pieces that have received rejections, here is a poem I wrote some time ago-

He’s busy, sure, but he’s really quite a guy

They’ve heard it before

And they all know it’s a lie

 

Come on, he tries hard

These lies taste like soap

But I’ve been at this for so long

It’s my only way to cope

 

And I know it’s not true

It’ll never be right

I’m sick of lying for you

And it ends tonight

 

I won’t tell them I’m doing it

Their looks will make me falter

But I admit it now

You’re not the man I want waiting at the alter

 

They’ll tell me you love me

Although they’re not really sure

They want me to be happy with you

But now I want more

 

And I know it’s not true

It’ll never be right

I’m sick of lying for you

And it ends tonight

 

Too long we’ve been doing this

Lying to you and to me

You’re lie is that you’re all in

Mine is that I want you to be

 

And I know it’s not true

It’ll never be right

I’m sick of lying for you

And it ends tonight

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