Writers are supposed to reflect and reflect often. In college, I had to reflect on my writing in every writing-based class. I still do it when looking at older pieces, ones I haven’t yet placed and ones that have been published for a long time. What was my process? Did I even have one? Does it matter if there is one? What about my long and short term goals for my writing?
I take part in the 100 Rejections Challenge, a challenge for writers to be, well, rejected from literary journals, fellowships, scholarships, and anything else in our wheelhouse at least 100 times. There are no extra zeroes, you are reading the correct amount. When I announced my total rejections for the year — 90 as of today, but there’s always a chance within the next two days that I will get 100 — I mostly got encouraging responses about my perseverance, how people couldn’t understand how I could do it. I took a moment to remember how just a few years ago, any rejection would have crumbled my self-esteem. Today, I get “No, thank you” repeatedly…for fun. You could say my process is simply being very annoying, and I would not disagree.
Towards the beginning of December, I read If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. I picked it up one day on a whim at Second & Charles and read it out of impulse. I’m not familiar with any of Ueland’s other work, and I saw plenty of problematic or privileged takes in some sections of the book. Thankfully, most of the advice in the book is universal and could have been written today, such as this:
“The only good teachers for you are those friends who love you, who think you are interesting, or very important, or wonderfully funny….And if you have no such friend,–and you want to write,–well, then you must imagine one. “Brenda Ueland
Without context, the quote can seem like it’s pointing towards finding those that only fill your ego, the ones that are “yes people” and will say anything to please you. However, when relating to my own writing journey up to this point, the most helpful teachers have been the ones that encouraged me in some way. Simply pointing out things that they liked, miniscule, microscopic moments I wouldn’t have thought mattered at all that they asked me to elaborate on further in my writing, was enough to explore other avenues in the revision process. Those who picked them apart like vultures did the opposite. For writers like me, it makes you want to leave your works in progress out to rot and hope that the scavengers take every part of it away, like it never happened.
A couple of times this year, the rejections did hit harder, because I was so close to getting an acceptance, only to be a semi-finalist, or to be the one they told they didn’t have enough room for them in their collections. Then there has been the journey with not one, but two poetry manuscripts that get so close to being chosen, only to not find a home. So encouraging, yet so crushing at once. Somehow those hurt more, but also spur more motivation and action once the grieving period is over.
But hanging onto the parts of the encouraging rejections that have the energy of the TikTok sound “Go Little Rockstar” keeps everything running, another day, another try.
Setting concrete goals, such as getting 100 rejections or a certain word counts can help you realize how much you can and do achieve, especially if you are someone like me and are especially hard on yourself. Thanks to my rejection goals, including submissions from 2020 that weren’t accepted until 2021, I was able to publish a lot more creative writing than I initially thought I did this year.
Plainsongs – “Gonna Tell My Kids”
Flora Fiction – “Pandemica VII”
Heart of Flesh Literary Magazine, Issue 6 – “a·poc·a·lypse”
Headlight Review – “Refuge” (forthcoming in 2022)
Sheila-Na-Gig Online – “Projection”
Monstering Magazine – “Rating Suggested Cures for My Various Mental and Chronic Conditions”
Setting Writing goals for 2022
Want to keep track of your goal(s)? I tend to use phone apps or simple Excel spreadsheets to keep track of where and when I’m submitting. I make a new one every year to keep track of the number of rejections. In a few days, I will reset with another one. If 100 rejections is too intimidating, start with smaller numbers. Raise your goal once you surpass smaller milestones.
If there’s anything you should take away from this, it’s to set yourself up for success in the new year by embracing a lot of failure.