Can I make rejection a goal?

To follow up on my last blog about horticultural failure, I thought it might be nice to stick with the theme of setback and focus on one of a writer’s biggest nemeses: rejection. But I’m trying to remain positive, if at all possible.

Sylvia Plath Quote

My first rejections as an MFA student came during my second semester. A majority of my MFA writing focuses on my days as a teacher in southeast Washington, D.C., and when a call for submissions came along for an upcoming anthology about teaching, I thought, Yes, this is my chance! How could they not want to publish me?

I submitted two pieces for consideration: a piece I felt met the requirements exactly and a piece that was a bit of a stretch. These pieces were among my very best and favorite essays to come out of my MFA coursework so far. The bit-of-a-stretch piece received a rejection almost right away, which didn’t surprise me. So, I didn’t take the rejection that hard. After all, it was a bit of a stretch. Plus, I still had one in the running. When weeks led into months, and I still had not heard anything back, I began to hope that maybe, just maybe I had bucked the trend, and my first submission ever would be accepted.

Then I went to my MFA residency during the summer of 2015. In between morning classes and the afternoon writing workshop, I checked my email and found this heartbreaking message: “Thank you again for submitting your piece to our publication. We received almost 500 submissions, and as you might imagine, it’s a difficult process to choose which pieces to choose. With that in mind, we’re very sorry to be writing with the news that your essay is not among the finalists.”

I’m an editor, so I immediately wanted to correct the “choose which pieces to choose” redundancy, and then I wanted to cry. What’s wrong with my essay? It was perfect for that teaching publication. Why wouldn’t they want to publish it?

Luckily, as I mentioned before, I was attending my MFA residency, the best place possible for such a rejection. I walked into my writing workshop that afternoon where four fellow students and our instructor met my rejection news with cheers and a hardy, “Congratulations!”

Then they proceeded to share their own rejection experiences with me, and I realized something very important in that moment: I had made it as a writer. I put my work out there, which is the most important part. Even our visiting speaker for that evening’s reading addressed the subject of rejection:

“Writers must be nuts because we choose a profession where we have to fail over and over and over and over again in order to be successful.”

With that idea in mind, I turned to the person sitting beside me at the reading and proudly shared, “I just got rejected today!” I had two submissions and two rejections under my belt. (The first of many, I suspect.) Time to celebrate!

Well, “celebrate” might be a bit premature. But at least I no longer felt totally defeated. My husband keeps reminding me how many times James Herriot failed before publishing the highly popular All Creatures Great and Small series.

I appreciate the positivity, but I also must admit that after that first set of rejections, I didn’t rush right out and start submitting anything else… until now. One year later.

As I navigate my way through my last MFA semester—the thesis semester—I am dipping my toe into the world of submissions (and rejections) again. I even made submissions part of my semester goals. I have to submit. It’s part of my official transcript, but if I’m going to do this, I need a new way to approach the inevitable rejections that will come my way.

In August, I took the plunge and submitted three pieces: two teaching essays and one essay about my fears of pregnant women (reference this blog post for more on that fear). Thanks to a fellow MFA student, I also found this gem of inspiration to help me reframe my thinking: Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections a Year

As the astute writer of that linked article points out, you can only get better with each rejection. So, what should my rejection goal be? I’m considering 20 for the year. It’s not 100, but it’s something. Besides, I have to keep that number low for now. I’m writing a thesis and working a full-time job, after all. I need to be realistic.

I had considered going out to dinner with my husband to celebrate each rejection that came my way, but that seems like a bad idea. Going broke in an attempt to celebrate my successful failures doesn’t seem like the best plan.

So, here’s to 20 rejections this year. Between the time that I started this entry and the time that I finally posted it (blogging is secondary to MFA deadlines), I got one rejection already (from the previously mentioned three submissions). Just 19 to go!

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