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Standing on the edge

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

This past year, well past eight months, I've put myself and my writing out there more than I have in a few years. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the biggest one is probably the encouragement and support of my writing group. Having people to celebrate the (sparse) wins and (many) rejections, makes it easier to put myself out on a limb. So, this past year, I've submitted several short stories, with one acceptance coming out in the Spring of 2024! I've also submitted to host a panel at AWP with my best writer buddy (we just got our rejection), and I applied to the Tin House writer's workshop for this Fall (Still waiting to hear).

I used to have this idea of getting 50 rejections in a year, but the reality of that when working with short stories is really out of my range. It takes months for journals to get back to you about a story, and I only send out two, maybe three stories at a time. So, getting to 50 rejections feels insane. But then, I got opened up to the idea of applying to workshops and panels and aspect within the rest of the world of literature.

So far this year, I only have ten rejections, but I also have stories out there waiting for the chance to either be published or sent back with heartbreak. Dealing with rejection stings every time, but it does get easier eventually. I think I've mentioned this before, but I had a mentor who said you should reward yourself each time you get a rejection. It turns the rejection from something to be sad about, to something to look forward to. I get ice cream with my husband every time I get a rejection. It makes the letdown into a date night instead. Having something to get you through the pain of being rejected also makes it easier to put yourself out there more, because you know either way, you kind of win.

When you first start submitting your work and getting rejections (which is always going to happen) you can't help but wonder if the work is bad or if it just wasn't the right fit. You doubt the whole story piece by piece, tweaking it over and over before resubmitting it to some new place. I once rewrote a story to the point where it was unrecognizable from what I had originally written, and it was so much worse for it. Being accepted to a journal is a delicate mixture between good writing and a shit-ton of luck. It depends on what the journal is looking for, the reader's taste, what kind of day they've had, etc. Rewriting a story isn't the way to go when first submitting. In fact, I don't rewrite a story now until it's been rejected from at least fifteen places. (That number is totally arbitrary and you should do what feels right to you.) I've found that I need to be able to stand behind my work and know it's good if I'm going to be sending it out on submission. If it's been rejected over and over and over, then I might rethink an aspect of it, but at the end of the day, I need to write with my voice, not to try and fit a journal's style.

Submitting anything creative feels like a risk. When you put yourself out there, revealing a little piece of your soul to a complete stranger for them to judge, it's scary! It's without a doubt one of the most difficult things to do. I see my students all the time who love writing, but are terrified of sharing anything they write, even with me. Unfortunately, art isn't meant to be held that tightly. Part of writing is the act of sharing it and having it perceived by others. In order for a story to live a full life, we need to put ourselves on that ledge and share it. Since I started my writing journey some 10+ years ago, I've finally gotten used to the process of submitting to journals and being rejected or accepted, but it's a new feeling applying to these other literary endeavors.

I've applied to the Tin House workshop before and had the necessary naive hope that I might be accepted on my first try. They specifically talk about looking for young, unpublished authors that they can help along their journey. That's me perfectly! So, when I got the rejection, it hurt more than any journal rejection because it was something different. It wasn't just a chance to share my writing, it was a chance to improve it. I was submitting sections of my novel and it barely occurred to me that I wouldn't be a sure thing. (Insane, right?) So when I reapplied this year, I only did so because I had people in my writing group doing the same. There are three of us applying for slots in the workshop. While some people might think that having other people apply makes more competition for me... I mean, I guess. But isn't it more fun to apply with friends and have the insane hope we might all get in? I'm sure whatever answer comes it's going to be a lot to process, but at least now if I get rejected, I'll have others to commiserate with, or I'll be able to celebrate one of my friends if they get accepted. It's like the difference between jumping off a dock into murky water yourself, vs having someone to hold your hand and jump with you. It's still scary, but at least you have a friend going through it with you. (Sorry, did my Florida show there with the dock thing?)

Writing something you're proud of is hard. Putting yourself and your work out there is hard. Getting rejected is hard. But it's all a little bit easier when you have people to help you along the way. Whether it's a writing group to read drafts, a partner to get ice cream, or friends to hold hands and jump with you into the unknown. I've talked about the importance of community before, but I can't stress it enough. Standing on the edge of a possibility is thrilling and scary all at the same time. There's been a Carrie Fisher quote running through my mind the past several months: "Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What's important is the action. You don't have to wait to be confident. Just do it, and eventually confidence will follow." So go out and get yourself some fellow writers to be weird with, then write something you want to share, and send it out into the world, because while it will get rejected from somewhere, it might just be accepted somewhere too.

Me on a literally ledge in an old castle in England

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