I read this morning that Jacob M Appel won the 1998 Boston Review short fiction prize with a piece that had previously been rejected by 75 literary journals. 75! I don’t know if I’m more amazed his story won the prize after such a chequered history, or at the fact Appel had the determination and conviction to submit his story so many times. He must have had faith in his own writing, and really believed that rejections often come down to a matter of taste.
I’m not going to lie, 2016 has been a lean year for me, writing-wise. Not in terms of the actual writing. I’ve been inspired, had ideas, and stories have come streaming out in various shapes and sizes, but I’m talking external validation here. Competition wins, or publication. I kept wryly telling friends and family who asked that I was ‘having a bit of a dry spell’. I told them I was writing plenty, but had no exciting news. I began to be impressed by my lack of achievement.
I received a few rejections, including a couple of pleasant, personal ones, but most of my stories are still with the journals I submitted to earlier this year (3 months ago, 5 months ago, 7 months ago, 8 months ago, even one piece that has been sitting comfortably on Submittable for an impressive 11 months). All of these stories are ‘in progress’ and most have been for a few months. I wondered if that meant anything good – the fact that the stories had been ‘opened’ and not rejected yet – but when I googled the topic, it seems a number of literary journals, being swamped with submissions and understaffed, don’t ever actually get around to ‘rejecting’ the piece you send. So ‘in progress’ on submittable may just mean no one has found time to send you the form rejection email. Gulp.
But last week, I finally had an email from a fiction editor, asking if a story was still available. The journal wants to publish it.
I may have cried. I may have done a little shuffling dance in my pyjamas. I may have felt that finally, finally, after a year of thanks but no thanks and a year of waiting and waiting for replies that may never come … that finally one of my stories will again be going out into the world.
I’ve said it before – writing is a mug’s game. We toil and doubt and wait and are rejected. But we do it because we love it, and because we want to share our words with others. And when we get an acceptance, even just one in an entire year of writing, it’s all worth it. Every heartbreaking, exhausting, exhilarating moment.