A Dubious Writing Milestone

A couple weeks ago, I got my 200th rejection letter. Thanks, Redivider!  It’s an odd thing to celebrate, but almost every writer I mentioned that to responded in some kind of congratulatory manner. And for some strange reason, it felt like a celebratory milestone to me, too.

Those 200 rejections are spread over 10 short stories over the course of 5 1/2 years, and 8 of those stories were eventually accepted for publication. That translates to a batting average of .038, which would probably get me kicked off a little league team. So why feel good about such persistent failure?

Well, for starters, rejections are par for the course. Even Raymond Carver got form rejection letters. There are too many stories out there and not enough lit mags, even for the best of them. At some point, even the best stories out there have to play the numbers game when they’re in the slush pile. Peruse the listings on duotrope.com and you’ll find acceptance ratios of many of the MFA-program lit mags at well under 1%. Makes that 3.8% look pretty good, right?

For another, getting rejected doesn’t always mean your story sucks. As Bartleby Snopes‘ editor Nathaniel Tower shows us in his essay, their are many different tiers of rejection. I once got what we in the biz refer to as a “personal rejection” from McSweeney’s that said they liked my story and hoped I’d continue submitting. That felt almost as good as an acceptance. They’re few and far between–lit mags can’t respond personally to the 1000 submissions per month that some of them get–but they feel pretty good when they hit your inbox. Those “nice rejections” are the “it’s not you, it’s me” of the writer’s world, except we totally believe it this time.

But above all else, I think it’s simply that 200 rejections makes me feel more like a real writer. Hopefully there are hundreds more to come (though it’d be nice to raise that batting average a bit).


Other things:

I’ll have more details later, but the next Fictlicious will be Sunday, Apr. 10 at the Hideout. The theme is “chemistry” and we’ve got a great slate of writers and musicians lined up.

Donald Trump? Really? I imagine a movie from the late eighties/early nineties that offers a satirical take on the not-too-distant future where Pepsi-Cola has branded the moon, music is performed entirely on digital synthesizers and all restaurants are Taco Bell. In that movie, Donald Trump is the president, and it’s supposed to be a joke.

My next class at StoryStudio Chicago is going to be a really unique one: Radical Revisions. We’ll be approaching our work from all sorts of different angles with an eye toward exploring the myriad of different craft choices we make in the construction of our stories. If you’ve ever wondered, for example, “What would be different if I changed from first person to third in this story?” or “How would things change if I only relied on dialogue?” then this is the class for you.

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1 Response to A Dubious Writing Milestone

  1. Pingback: Notes on “Applications in Mathematics” | Steve Trumpeter

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