— for the students who were in my class last week

Drafts of You Are No Longer in Trouble.

There’s a restaurant in town where the servers say Of course. For a long time this bothered me. Why Of course to the caesar salad? What did they know about me? Were they psychic? Or judgy? Of course only water to drink. Of course no dessert? Then I traveled in Poland, where of course seemed more common. I got used to it. Of course they said of course.

Of course is the way to think of rejection. For years, I was scared. Terrified. I didn’t send work out for fear someone might say no. Therefore, very few editors said yes.

Of course I was getting rejected. Everyone does. If only a small percentage of work gets accepted, rejections are going to happen. I knew that. I thought of Marvin Bell, who once said in a workshop I was in, “Ninety percent of what you write is going to be crap, so if you write ten things, one will be good. Write 100 or 1000 instead.” Often I would repeat his words to my students, but I still wasn’t writing enough or submitting enough work.  

And then rejection evolved despite my paralysis. Rejections didn’t show up only in the mailbox, once a day when you had time to steel yourself. You couldn’t hold the envelope and speculate at how thin it was. Rejections showed up everywhere. They hid in my phone and jumped out at inconvenient times. I could be rejected anywhere: in the dim theatre before the movie began, in the hallway waiting at the hospital, in between classes at work, and in the bathroom.

Then my partner had an idea. A contest. using Duotrope, we would see who could submit more work. When I got a rejection, I would text him “Rejected: Prairie Schooner” or “Rejected: Poetry Magazine,” and he would reply  “Congratulations!”

The small joy of the “congratulations” changed my mind. When a rejection came in, I would revise quickly and send the work back out. I wrote more, drafted more, journaled more, revised more. Submitted more. Got rejected more. Got accepted much more.

Of course, I did.

These days I approach rejection as the default, the permanent state. The lowest number dialed into the thermostat in the winter. A threshold of what you’ll put up with.

I live in Alaska. It gets cold for a long time here, but in at the end of the warm season we don’t want to admit it. Starting in September, we sneak the thermostat lower and lower to avoid kicking the furnace on for the first time in the fall. Of course winter always comes and the furnace growls itself awake, but at least we can control how we feel about the coming winter.

Of course, writers can do this too. Tolerate more rejection, and you’ll find yourself getting more acceptances too.

Go ahead, try. You’ll get rejected of course. And that’s just fine. Congratulate yourself. 


Here are a couple of  great places to find opportunities:

Entropy Magazine publishes a list of submission calls each month.

This yahoo group compiles submission opportunities for creative writers. You can subscribe.

If you have cash handy try Duotrope. It’s $50 per year, but it helps: