I stumbled across this article the other week and I really enjoyed it so I thought I would share it with you. In the article she is talking about sending work off to journals and not being put off by rejections. Her words inspired me to keep writing and re-writing. Instead of agonising over one word or one sentence, write hundreds of words and hundreds of sentences. The more you write the better you get, it’s inevitable. As she says since I have started aiming for rejections, not acceptances, I no longer dread submitting.
So I wrote various endings of the same short story to see what would happen. I didn’t worry about whether it was the right ending or the perfect ending, it was just an exercise in rejection, but with each rejected ending I understood a little bit more about my story, a little bit more about what I wanted in it and what I didn’t. What worked and what didn’t. And though I’ll only use one ending the other five I wrote no doubt nourished and contributed to it, perhaps in ways I cannot explain but neither can I deny. Now I no longer dread the imperfect sentence or clunky writing. I like it because it’s one step closer to a finished piece.
I eagerly await my first rejection.
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.
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.”
In the book Art & Fear, authors David Bales and Ted Orland describe a ceramics class in which half of the students were asked to focus only on producing a high quantity of work while the other half was tasked with producing work of high quality. For a grade at the end of the term, the “quantity” group’s pottery would be weighed, and fifty pounds of pots would automatically get an A, whereas the “quality” group only needed to turn in one—albeit perfect—piece. Surprisingly, the works of highest quality came from the group being graded on quantity, because they had continually practiced, churned out tons of work, and learned from their mistakes. The other half of the class spent most of the semester paralyzed by theorizing about perfection, which sounded disconcertingly familiar to me—like all my cases of writer’s block.
Since I’ve started aiming for rejections, not acceptances, I no longer dread submitting. I don’t flinch (much) when I receive inevitable form rejection emails. Instead of tucking my story or essay apologetically into a bottle and desperately casting it out to sea, I launch determined air raids of submission grenades, five or ten at a time. I wait for the rejections, line up my next tier of journals, and submit again.
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Last year, I got rejected 43 times, but I also got five acceptances—one to a residency, one to a reading series, and three publications in literary journals. Additionally, to my delight, I received six encouraging rejections from really great journals, inviting me to send them something else.
Feel free to share your experiences of rejections or opinions of the article in the comments.