I am a writer. Specifically, I am a poet with marketable skills in copy-writing, editing, communications, etc. I can also write literary criticism, academic papers, and press releases if cornered. But poetry is medium of choice for written expression.
In 2010, I decided I wanted to pursue more specific goals with producing new poetry and seeking publication, and challenged myself to send out 2010 individual poem submissions in 2010 (I have an old LJ that charted my progress while it lasted, if you’re interested). If you write for publication or are thinking about it, I highly recommend attempting at least one foolhardy set of literary goals like this.
Many writers fear rejection, loathe it, dread it. Most writers do. Arguably every writer who seeks publication has felt some degree of trepidation about it at some point in their careers. Yet we all know, intellectually, rejection is inevitable.
Here’s a little secret:
Nothing will cure you of your fear of literary rejection (or at least make it far more manageable) faster than writing and submitting in volume. Massive amounts, more than is reasonable, even if it’s just sustained for a short time. You will be so busy trying to find the next market to send your work to, or writing and revising new work, or reading the wonderful efforts of your peers, that the rejection becomes merely a part of the process, a simple bit of information to log in your submission tracker.* Depersonalizing the business side of your art to the point that you can face the continually-growing pile of rejection letters with total equanimity is a good place for any writer desiring publication to be. It’s not the only way to be sure, but it’s where I wanted to go, and I’m happy to say, I arrived. Rejections do not faze me at all. I’m even hungry for them, because I now associate rejections with heightened literary activity.
I didn’t actually meet that 2010 challenge. For the record, I did rack up about 390 poem submissions, 14 new publishing credits, and 2 Pushcart nominations for just over a quarter-year’s work before my personal life, well, exploded. I spent the rest of the year trying to maintain some sense of normality in the weird new world that left little room for concern about literary goals. That’s okay, I’m back now.
Admittedly, I can be foolhardy (this is not something I have a problem with—it’s gotten me to some really wonderful places in the past), but these days the focus is a bit more on feasibility. My current goals are not so jaw-droppingly huge, and are founded more on the cyclical nature of my availability (of time and energy, mostly). In this way, I can be one person accomplishing all of the things I accomplish: Full time work and parenthood, part-time university studies, engaged in a variety of creative and community endeavors, active at my Fellowship, connected to my community, crafty, and more.
If you’re going for volume, whether in submitting or composing or some combination of the two, regular literary activity will be crucial.** Engaging in daily activity generates its own momentum that can lead to some dramatic leaps in the evolution of your craft (and your tear-sheet!). You may read more, submit more, edit more, expand your understanding of the craft, find new material inside that you didn’t know was there, get familiar with the ins and outs of the protean world of publishing, or even just plain read more of your peers’ work.
At this point in my own life, I have developed a healthier respect for the investment of my time and the quality of attention I may bring to anything I do, and to my life and mental health in general. I am closer to stillness, closer to happiness, closer to sanity…more importantly, closer to my children, closer to healing, to purpose, and embracing a respectful and loving relationship with myself, and consciously making a happy, healthy space for activism, for beautiful community, and for learning. I’m breathing. And no small part of me understands that work, too, is integral to my path as a writer.
Best of luck, grit, and determination on your literary endeavors!
* I highly recommend using a submission tracker if you’re going to engage in volume submitting! DuoTrope is my go-to. It has a rigorously-maintained database of markets that are both free and fee-based to submit to for both poets and writers. Duotrope charges a small amount that is completely worth it, in my opinion. I also have a very successful writer-friend who uses a good old-fashioned spreadsheet, and she’s one of the most savvy writers I know (in terms of getting her work out there). Use the tools you’ll use, but keep track somehow!
** For 2009 & 2010, I piggy-backed on NaNoWriMo as a poet and ended up generating about 25 new poems in a single month for both years. April is actually NaPoWriMo, if that suits you better, or just find a buddy, a workshopping group, or carve out time to give to your literary goals in any sustainable way. Find the rhythm and the reasons that work for you!