After a steady 17 months of writing, after sending 19 different short stories to over 140 publications, and after batting a perfect zero for 97 in rejections, I had two stories accepted by two publications in the course of a week.
Who woulda thunk it.
Experienced writers might bristle at me complaining about 17 months. That is not a lot of time to deal with rejection in writing, but note that I said a “steady 17 months.” In fact I have been writing, in stretches, for nearly 40 years. I wrote my first freelance newspaper articles in the spring of 1978. I wrote my first short stories a year later, and I was a regular stringer for a mid-sized daily newspaper, The New Bedford Standard-Times starting in the fall of 1980.
I wrote steadily through graduate school, and between roughly 1985 and 1989 I produced a few decent short stories during my M.A. program and after. I had a few thoughtful, personal rejection letters, including one from Ploughshares and one from the North American Review. It’s possible that, with a few steady years of writing (there’s that word again) I could have had a few things published. I look back at what I wrote then and I still like a few things. I took one piece, rewrote it, and have submitted it again. I have four rejections for it, but three came with personal notes and invitations to resubmit other things in the future.
What happened between 1989 and the fall of 2015 when I finally got back to it? Well, I married in 1989, bought a house in 1990, had my first son in 1991, and had my second son in 1993. I changed jobs and careers in 1989 and change jobs again in 1993. After that? It was off to the races.
In a word, life happened, and I don’t regret it one bit.
I did put aside my creative writing almost entirely, but I found ways to stay in the writing game. I work in publishing, though my work on the technology end of publishing keeps me a couple of steps removed from the editorial work. I teach writing, though freshman composition is not the same as creative writing. And I have written. I co-wrote two technical books, contributed a chapter to another book, and wrote a few dozen articles for technical and business trade magazines, newsletters, and websites. I count the newsletter writing–for the Gilbane Report and the Seybold Report–to be the best analytical writing I have done. They were long-form pieces, written for editors with rigorous standards and discerning eyes, and I was paid well for them. I also wrote a few long-form articles for trade magazines that came with big paychecks. I made more money for each of several of the magazine articles than I did for each of my books.
I am not bragging. On the whole, these are modest accomplishments, but it’s how I stayed in the game. All of these things helped me. I can write a good sentence, I can write clearly, and I can find my end from the beginning to the end of a lengthy piece of writing without losing myself or my reader.
I have to admit the last 17 months have been lonely. Rejection is not fun even though I know it’s the name of the game in publishing. (I recall vividly hearing an industry pro tell me, in graduate school that, “There are only Fs and As in publishing, and there are a lot more Fs than As.”)
Ninety-seven Fs and two As later, I can confirm he is indeed correct.
More to come. I will post links and such when the stories get posted. I will share, though, what one editor wrote to me after I rewrote a story at his suggestions. In his email to me telling me the story would be published he wrote, “…’What you can do’ is a fine and wonderful story, Bill.”
That feels good, even though I know some of my work is very good and even though I know each of those 97 rejections didn’t mean my work is bad. Tastes are subjective. A story that is very good for one publication may be exactly wrong for another. Maybe the person reading the slush pile didn’t read something with the right care and attention. I told myself for 17 months that I didn’t need validation, but, really, don’t we all?
The picture above is of my desk this morning, 17 months in. More to come.