Hey, LRR readers/writers!
Those of you that submitted to the Long River Review this year may be wondering what’s going on with submissions. Well, the deadline has come and gone, so the panels are working on making their selections.
To those of you that will end up getting published this year, CONGRATS! But I actually want to spend some time today congratulating all of the writers that submitted and will not be getting published.
If you eventually get a rejection note in your email, remember this scrap of wisdom, imparted to me by one of my personal gurus, Jack Canfield: the average millionaire in America has gone bankrupt 3.5 times. I know, probably none of you are millionaires, but I bring this up because our professor in the Long River Review class said something similar this week: the best writers she knows are the ones that have been rejected the most.
I know that probably sounds like a consolation prize, but I’m telling you this as someone who submitted about a bajillion different pieces to the Creative Writing contests and heard my own fellow panelists rate some of my dearest poems with a 1. Ouch. Seriously, though, this is what a writer needs. Rick Bass said it beautifully in his essay “When to Keep It Simple” (published in Tin House’s The Writer’s Notebook):
“One of the best things that can happen to a writer is for him or her to feel that he or she is not being heard. One of the worst things that can happen to a writer is for him or her to believe that his or her every utterance will be heard–that there are throngs, in fact, waiting for those next utterances.”
If you never get constructive criticism, you can never improve. And if you’re really in it to win it, you will want to improve more than anything, if that means it will one day get you published. It hurts for me to hear that what I think of as my best pieces aren’t that great. But if it’s true, then that’s what I need to hear. My dearest wish is to get published big-time one of these days, and I’ll achieve that goal if it’s the last thing I do. What I’ve recently come to realize is that it doesn’t matter if my ego has to take a serious beating between now and then, because I starve for it, and I will tear my work apart and stitch it back together again a million times if that’s what it takes. To become truly great, you’re going to have to humble yourself– and you’re going to have to collect your fair share of rejection letters.
On that note, I’d like to forward some great wisdom along from a some other writers. My Creative Writing professor shared this fantastic interview with George Saunders in class the other day. My favorite part is the fourth question Ward asks Saunders, and the reply. In this exchange we discover that even George Saunders needs feedback and constructive criticism. I personally find this to be very encouraging news: George Saunders has four published books of short stories, and his work has been published in The New Yorker. If he still needs constructive criticism, I think it’s safe to say that all of us always will.
Similarly, as I poked around some other literary blogs, I found this thought-provoking article from Bill Morris over at The Millions. He explores the topic of whether writers can ever really retire, and he has some really interesting insights into the topic. At one point he asserts that you aren’t really a writer if you don’t feel compelled to write every day.
I personally agree with this, though perhaps not absolutely. I have occasionally had days where I never once picked up a pen (strange as those days always are), but I’ve been keeping a diary for nearly ten years. And yes, when I say ‘keeping a diary,’ I DO mean writing an entry every single day. I actually took a hiatus this winter because writing an entry every day was beginning to feel like a chore, which is something I never want it to be. Taking a break felt so good that I wondered sadly if my diary-keeping days were over. But then, after about a month, I noticed an itch starting to build up deep down inside in a hidden, unreachable place like that spot between your shoulder blades; I recognized it eventually as the itch to get back to writing. When I finally did, it felt like showering after a week without hot water. That’s one of the signs, I think: writers have this burning need to get it all out, to put it down on paper. It doesn’t really even matter whether what comes out
is pure gold or toxic sludge- it just has to come out. And I’m pretty sure we’ve all been there: to the toxic sludge pit on some days, and to the gold mine on others.
That’s what a good writer needs: your ego should take a good beating every now and again, like when you got a bit cocky and mistook some of your toxic sludge for a gold nugget. But I swear, with enough polishing and enough critiques, you’ll find gold in there somewhere, even if it’s only a flake. Keep polishing, and don’t give up hope, because remember– if you’ve been rejected (perhaps for the hundredth time), you’re well on your way!