On meeting (exceeding) my goal of getting 52 rejections in a year

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:


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?

On Rejection

So far in 2018, my work has been rejected more than 30 times. More than 20 by literary or other magazines, 6 by literary agents, 1 by a graduate program.

When I got the rejection from the graduate program, I felt disappointed, confused, at peace, then markedly more confused, followed by a chaser of confusion and peace. And then I felt relief and I still feel relief coupled with a little bit of confusion. I think that's about the truest feeling I can describe upon being rejected. It's so rarely just one singular feeling that wraps around one's tender ego and that plugs up the heart from leaking out rejection tears. It's a little bit of this and a little bit of that unexpected other thing that mingle together in the rejection cocktail. Even when relationships didn't work out, this was my experience. A lot bit sad, a little bit relieved. A strong portion of UMMM WUT? and a slice of the OH GOOD, one fewer people to revolve my life around, hey? 

Rejection always stings not because it's a denial of one's work or one's companionship. It's a rejection of something one has chosen with which to be vulnerable. This is why self-preservation is such a powerful reflex for some of us. If we don't make ourselves vulnerable, we won't deal with rejection. Nor will we ever see our work published or experience deep love or anything that places our vulnerability at risk?

I decided that 2018 was going to be my year to aim for at least 104 rejections (2 for each week of the year). It's not enough to say I want to be published because publication is a moving target on quaaludes. If I play the rejection numbers game, it's like that old corndog adage about aiming for the moon but landing among the stars.

And my work has found a soft place to land in a couple of publications, and that has felt even better. Better than the sting of rejection is the feeling of acceptance. What they don't tell you about acceptance as a writer, though, is that it begins from within and it has to be a continuous renewal process. It's very difficult if not impossible to receive the acceptance of a publication and to really appreciate what it represents if you haven't accepted your own strengths and limitations as a writer, as an artist. I'm not so self-actualized that I can read things I wrote, like things I wrote two sentences ago, and don't want to find a nice cement mixer and fling myself underneath its direct pour. Fortunately, that feeling becomes more fleeting, though, the more vulnerable we make ourselves, the more practiced we become at receiving rejection and putting it in its place.

That's why I'm aiming for a year of rejections, because aiming for the moon still nets me some stars, and seeing the moon up close must be pretty cool, too. 

My Podcast Debut

Well, fan club, you best get my autograph now because my fame is about to BLOW. UP. That chemical engineer multi-lingual brilliant lady friend of mine Josephine Elia interviewed me for her Reading Interview Series. BALLER! Color me tickled to have been asked about my favorite books. If you give it a listen, you should probably put it on 2x as fast because I'm just blathering away most of the time. And laughing at my own jokes. And diverting from the main point like every forty seconds. But what did you expect?

Hope you enjoy! And thank you SO MUCH, Josephine Pippin!!