“There’s a piece about a woman who got 101 rejections in a year in the New York Times, today,” Loverpants mentions.
Perhaps for other couples, the person who mentioned this to the other might expect to have another day to live, or a few hours at most. Who casually teases the other with rejection tales, casual-like, as if it’s a Crossfit workout of the day tip? But in our particular entanglement, this teaser was a complete aphrodisiac. I felt so seen. So known. So loved. I wanted to jump that man’s bones. And also to read the New York Times immediately.
At the beginning of the year, I had set out to do the same as the writer in the NYT. I challenged myself to seek 52 rejections, one per week, for my writing. I wanted to play the numbers game. I know this works for e-bay sellers, for example. The more pairs of Nikes they list, the more sales they see. Plus, momentum is powerful. Objects in motion continue in motion unless flatly and coldly rejected by a non-paying literary magazine, as the Law of Literary Motion goes, which Isaac Newton probably knew but just failed to disclose since his poetry wasn’t very good either. Ego! When your goal is to maintain momentum, though, there’s no time to stew over a door slamming shut. You have to find another potential door to knock on. You’re very busy trying to come up with your salutation once you do.
I submitted my work a total of 159 times in 2018. Most were for publications I read regularly, some were for more obscure literary magazines, and a couple were for residencies/conferences. Here is the breakdown:
15 STILL WAITING TO HEAR BACK
The math isn’t exactly the kind of pretty pie graphable fair compare. These aren’t the numbers that show clearly how the sweat equity leads to success. The measuring stick for writers is different and personal and ever-evolving. And it’s always set to music, trust me. It’s just like “Grey’s Anatomy” over here any time an editor’s e-mail appears. ::cue emo song by Ingrid Michaelson::
For me, I was determined to place my writing in new outlets. This was the first year I had pieces published in Slate.com and the Washington Post. These opportunities were thrilling for me. THRILLLLLLLING like getting sung to by the waiters wearing sombreros at Chi Chis in the 80s! I enjoyed the work and tore my hair out over it, as well. The process was not glamorous and rewriting three different drafts for one story for one editor was a deep dish of humble pie. I still loved the work, in the way one loves anything hard that reaps rewards.
The numbers also don’t represent the relationships forged, both with amazing editors who are consummate professionals, as well as with sources who trusted me with their vulnerability and the details of their stories. I got to be in touch with several people with whom I’ve not been in touch for years. And I got paid to do so. That’s some awesome time travel, cruising back to the past where you met someone and meeting them in the present where they share meaningful details of their lives. I’m grateful for all of it.
The psychology behind aiming for rejection rather than acceptance, as the NYT piece says, is essentially exposure therapy. If rejection is the fearsome activity, one needs to pursue it so much and so doggedly that it loses its mystique and therefore its potency. In pursuing rejection, did rejection lose its sting for me? I’d have to say that it did. I don’t think I realized how much it was unseating me to have my work dismissed or ignored. I knew I was kind of a precious pain whenever I couldn’t scrape myself off the floor because an editor didn’t like my penchant for portmanteaus. I just knew that I had sad feeeeeelings. Knowing it was my job, though, to take a rejection and turn it into forward motion—that is, to find somewhere else to try to place the work — reframed the process for me. A dead end was actually just a cul-de-sac where I could turn around and find somewhere else in the neighborhood to visit.
As much as I’d like to end on the note that I’m aiming for twice as many rejections in the new year, I’d say that I may take a different, less bullish approach. The momentum of seeking rejection helped me to overcome a lot of the fear I hadn’t realized was holding me back from doing the damn thing. The rejection momentum seeped into the rest of my life, and I started to recognize other areas where I had been listening to a whole lotta noise. My big mood heading into 2019 is to carve out time for wellness, and I include my writing in this. I feel better when I’m writing, but, I’m not totally convinced that it always needs to be published by a third party. So I’m hoping to do a good bit more on this platform. And you? What are you resolving or reaffirming in the New Year?