I’m on a date with another more experienced writer. This is what writers sometimes do. We connect and compare notes, we tell stories and celebrate the triumphs while acknowledging the defeats. The many many defeats. And the wins! My new friend tells me the story of her winning poem, the one that took top prize in a prestigious poetry contest.
“That poem was rejected 138 times before it won.” I look at her, gobsmacked. How is that even possible? I ask. She shrugs. Okay, it might have been sent out 136 times.
I have read and heard many times that all it takes is one reader, the right reader. The topic of my friend’s poem was somewhat obscure and required the right set of eyes with the mind to match to capture the poem’s essence and appreciate its beauty. Talent, timing, luck and…perseverance. That’s what it takes to get published or win that award or grant or application. And something else that I will call—cue booming God-like voice—engaging in THE WRITER’S WHEEL OF FORTUNE.
Let me explain how the wheel works.
Simply put: what comes back to you, you must send back out into the universe.
How about a fine example from my own writing life. Recently, I received an email rejection for a well-regarded residency I was hoping to get into.
A writing residency is a set amount of time away to work, say two to four weeks, that sometimes involves a stipend, often room and board is covered and, occasionally, you get to work with a mentor or two. The main attraction for me is time and space to write, everything else is bonus. These residencies are hard to earn, competition is fierce.
“We reject to inform you…” the five words writers never want to hear. I immediately did what I encourage every writer to do. I was already in the process of finishing another writing residency application. I swallowed my disappointment in one blink, and then was able to add the finishing touching to said new application and WHOOSH, off it went into the wild wide world. And I could breathe a huge sigh of relief. The trick is to take the energy that comes attached to a rejection and put it to positive use, i.e. my next submission. This sounds suspiciously like reframing the rejection as a new opportunity. Another writer, Barbara Harris Leonhard, reframes the rejection by saying the piece was “returned.” In this way, through the writer’s wheel of fortune, like the ups and downs of life, I end up on the crest of the hill, instead of deep in the valley of depression.
And why am I sharing this with you? Because hard work comes with its rewards. Two days before that residency rejection I had a lengthy essay accepted into a literary journal I highly respect. And that essay had already been “returned” more than once. The right eyes, the right mind will connect with your pages, your application, your submission. You and your work will find a home.
Admittedly, I’m still relatively new to all of this, but I’m learning that once you’ve accrued a body of work and received feedback and made substantial edits to that work, that THEN the key is to submit and keep the wheel of fortune moving. Take your masterpieces and push them out and through the world. The publishing world moves at a snail’s pace, so I try to make my turn arounds sharp by already knowing the next place or contest I might send a piece of work, or be writing several grants or residency applications at once.
My sharpest turn? Once I received a rejection for a literary anthology for an essay that I knew wasn’t quite the right fit, but I didn’t want to miss the deadline or opportunity. In the meantime, I was working on the just-right essay somewhat by chance. When the rejection letter came in, I thanked the editor profusely and said, “… but actually, this new essay I’ve been working on will fit perfectly with your collection.” Now, this is not always going to end happily, but for me it did. The essay was accepted, and the book received high praise.
The thing about the writer’s wheel of fortune is that you can’t win if you don’t play the game.