The Losing Game: Writing Acceptance 1/?
The tide of rejections had risen until I was tits deep and it was time to grab ahold of the lifeline: I asked my mother for advice. My mother, in case you weren't aware, is a badass. She is perhaps the most productive person in the Western Hemisphere, and is in addition an excellent soup maker. Is she a creative writer? No, but she's something much better: a contributing member of society. I imagined her, sitting at her computer going over building blueprints, phone held between her cheek and shoulder, frowning a little and asking, "I mean, are you submitting to places that have accepted your work before?" I exhaled through pursed lips, said, "sort of." But I wasn't, really. I sat with her question for a couple weeks before I realized this was for two reasons. The first, most obvious one is that I want to be everybody's type. I want to appear in so many lit journals that I'm undeniable. The more insidious reason that lived deeper under the surface was the quiet fear that if I get turned down by someone who'd previously accepted me, then I only ever reached that first acceptance through fluke. I'm not a repeat performer. I'm someone who stumbles into success through the sheer force of numbers. If I get a rejection from an editor who formerly liked me, does it cast doubt on my capabilities? I understand the fear (obviously. I have it.) but my god, what deep self-sabotage. Submitting to editors who have wanted you before is knowing your brand and target audience. It doesn't guarantee a second success in the same place, but you know there's something you do that worked for the readers and editors. This is one of the many harms of wanting to be all things to all people. There's a whole not everyone's gonna like you thing, apparently.
But it's the truth so I leaned the hell in. I sucked my breath through my teeth and decided to submit to a contest from a lit journal I had a great experience with that had accepted me in the past. I was deep in a rejection hole and was committing to the idea that I would get a grand total of zero acceptances in 2019, so I expected nothing. When I saw the e-mail come in with the response from the journal, I had the clenched heart feeling I'd started to associate with those [square brackets] before I even opened it. Then it said this:
[WRITING ACCEPTANCE 1/?] Dear Erin: Congratulations! One of your poems in your Shadow Award 2019 entry, "Hairballs/How did you die," has been selected into our Top 10. This means that it will be published in our upcoming Shadow Award 2019 mega-issue (to run early next week) and it will be included in our fifth annual Prize Winners Anthology (we'll send a separate email with details on that in the near future). Visit the list at: https://themolotovcocktail.com/ Thanks so much for your participation in the Shadow Award 2019 contest, and for writing such a terrific poem. We're honored to be able to feature it. Congrats again. The Molotov Cocktail
and some of the screaming inside of me quieted at last, defeated by the great amount of joy to be appearing in one of my fave lit journals again.
Usually in this blog the intended moral is "keep going". I think in this case, the moral is you're not for everybody. Go where you have a seat at the cool kid's table. Also: It's easier to talk about the rejections when you have a success in your pocket. Once you do, the possibility of success seems real again. Your past ratios and successes are not reliable rules of thumb, and yet we can only compare against ourselves. This is a task that brings you up against yourself. Take the good stuff you can from it. Develop other hobbies. Don't let any one thing become your entire identity. Don't hit your head against tables or walls because you know, it kills brain cells. And remember that wherever it is you are, you are already where somebody else wishes they were. Try to congratulate yourself a bit. It's good for you. Yours in deep, reliefy exhales, - E.B. Kirsh