When I started posting my rejections as inspired by poet-friend William James, I took on the goal of 100 rejections a year for the sole reason that that was what he did and I thought that was awesome. Not one time in three years have I neared 100 submissions in a year, let alone 100 rejections, but I tell you, I thought 2018 might be the year I do it. I got off to a solid start. Even my fairly new job that boasts conventional hours didn't slow down my rate of writing, editing, and submitting, as the ArtistLifeFearMongers always said it would.
People are bizarrely committed to this inexplicably romanticized ideal of a writer as someone who writes while smoking at a wooden desk in an attic, situated in front of a window, fingers clacking on a typewriter; someone who sleeps on a futon on the floor, surrounded by loose leaf papers; someone who makes the active choice that they'd rather being broke out of Devotion To The Craft than sell out and "get stuck" in an office job. People are bizarrely committed to seeing burning out for your passion as a certificate of authenticity. People will privately, or publicly, sneer at you when you have a 9-5, pointedly ask you if you're worried your art will suffer, ask you when you will find time to write, look at you like you're inferior.
Listen: when I was juggling working a waitressing gig, running a non profit, freelancing as a copywriter/editor, running workshops in high schools, promoting products at trade shows, performing poetry, and bartending private events, I had way less time to write than I do now, but for some reason, we think of those things as more compatible with the "artist lifestyle." And depending on your craft, it might be. To a certain degree there could be some flexibility in the gig economy, but to consider it the only way can be a harmful pitfall. I have more time to write now than I have since I graduated from university, and probably even earlier, because let's not pretend I didn't usually have a couple of jobs on the go while I was a student. But I wrote then. I write now. People who worked more and harder and more desperately than I did at my busiest have found time to write. People with significant barriers have found time to write. If creating is important to you, it can usually be done, whether you're gigging it up or working 9-5 like a Dolly song.
The discovery that I'd been writing and submitting more this year than ever before has been buoying. I thought I might be on track for those 100 rejections this year, but it's pretty clear to me that unless I have a monster month of submitting and quick responses coming back, it's not going to happen. This led to another realization: just because you have time to be writing doesn't mean you always are writing. Artists hit lulls. There are normal periods of boom and bust, times when you're writing a lot, times when you're editing a lot, times when you're sending your work out a lot, and times when you're doing all three at once. But for a couple of months now, I haven't been creating anything serious. I've written a few average poems and I've submitted some work 2 or 3 times, but I haven't been prostrating myself at the egomaniacal temple of writing lately. The other day I was looking over my submission tracker and feeling ashamed of my efforts. Why had I fallen off? I sat down at my favourite neighbourhood spot to write something a couple of weeks ago, and something in me stubbornly refused. I came back home annoyed and feeling like I had wasted a day. 'Maybe I'm done with writing,' I thought. 'Maybe writing is done with me.'
It isn't, of course. Even though I haven't returned to my former state of hustle, I've become more centered. Even though I'm not hard at writing, editing, and submitting, there are several parts about being a writer that I forgot about, and they are essential to the process too.
If you're going to make art, especially if you're going to write, I think it's important that you go out and do some living and experiencing. It's important to give yourself shit to write about. Leave your house from time to time, especially when it's hard. Not writing a lot right now doesn't mean I'm being lazy or that I'm done with writing forever. I'm just in a different part of the process. I'm collecting experiences. I'm stockpiling.
The other thing I've done more of this year as a direct result of my 9-5 job is reading. I've been haunting the library. I've become a person who puts holds on books. I've patronized my favourite used book store with the elderly store cat. I've done book swaps. It's July and I've been fortunate enough to read 35 books so far this year, and by the end of this week, it will be 36. I can do this because I get long lunch breaks and because I take the bus to work. These are amazing times to get some reading done. Reading is also an essential stage, at least for me. I know writers and performers who tell me they don't read a lot, and maybe that works for them, but it sure as fuck doesn't work for me. I'm not writing much right now, but I'm devouring books. Again, I'm engaged with a subtler part of the process.
And it's okay to be engaged with those other parts of the process. It's important to be. Writers tend to be so hard on themselves when they aren't writing, but that's not helping anyone's art. All being down on oneself is doing is making the Living Life part of writing a little less fun. Besides, this is the good thing about working hard earlier in the year: the rejections are still coming. If you work your ass off, you can take breaks and still reap the rewards of your work for awhile. (Man, it's nice to think of rejection as a reward.) In fact, it's fucking important to take breaks. So it's cool. Be gentle with yourself. If you aren't writing right now, that's fine. Not editing? Fine. Not getting any acceptances? Super fine. Get out there and stockpile. If you have time, visit a library. And if you don't want to do that? ALSO FINE, CAPS LOCK.
Remember: Growth gets processed during the rest, not the action.*
* I do not know this is a fact, but I think there's something to it.
So gentle, my friends. Here's rejection 16. We're getting there together.
Thank you for sending us "Six Poems." We appreciate the chance to read it. We’ve given your work careful consideration and are unable to offer you publication. We only have space to publish five percent of the thousands of submissions we receive annually. We regret that we cannot be more constructive; due to time constraints, we do not offer in-depth reviews of rejected submissions.
Best wishes with your writing.
Until next time,
- E.B. Kirsh
P.S. Tell me what books you're reading. I always want more shit to add to my goodreads. Recommend me something good.