by Sherry Rind
Crow Pickins magazine, famous for instant turn-around, kept my poems for 6 weeks before returning them. Does that mean I came close to an acceptance? Should I feel better about the rejection?
Sometimes a reply is slow because the ms has circulated through all the editors but has not garnered enough votes to make it to a second round. So maybe you received 3 out of 6 yes votes. Or those 6 weeks could be due to taking that long for the grad students whose job it is to eliminate as many entries as possible to get to your ms and toss it.
On a good day, you’ll choose to believe the former; on a bad day, the latter. It’s like weight. One day you’ll be OK with your weight and feel you look pretty darn good. Another day you’ll put on last year’s jeans (big mistake) and feel like a disaster. The truth is, nobody else will notice either way. Same with your work. Not published, nobody knows how close you came. Publish a couple of poems, and you feel great. For one day.
The best solution for your current worry is the same as always: get together with friends, wearing this year’s jeans if you please, and grouse your hearts out over dry martinis. You’ll feel better that they feel just as bad. Do not invite the person whose book is coming out next fall. She was just lucky.
I’ve been blocked for weeks, like I have nothing to write about and I worry that I’ll never write again. I look at all these advice books telling me to try different exercises, meditate, draw pictures, put my head in a bucket, like each book has the magic cure. But it’s all just too much.
Stuck, Blocked, and Discouraged
Writing prompts are nice for keeping the muscles in shape, but don’t expect major breakthroughs as a result. You might get something; you might not—that’s not their purpose any more than doing planks every day makes you an athlete. You do them so that you can do other stuff.
You don’t have to feel inadequate if you want to throw out all the inspirational crap with its underlying message that feeling sorry for yourself is bad form. That you have to get right back up and keep going. Yes, some people spew out poems like tourists in Mexico who ate unwashed jalapenos, but they are the exception. Most of us are plodders.
Sometimes a person needs to be blocked for an uncomfortably long time. Who knows what changes are happening among the mysterious bacteria in your gut? The point is, don’t chase what isn’t there. Allow some hibernation time. Silence is not always a crime of failure or a problem, unless you regard it as such. Sometimes it’s necessary. Sometimes it allows your creative self to relax and hang out with the chickens, your mind as empty and wandering as theirs. It’ll come home when it’s ready.
I am an older writer who finds it increasingly difficult to weather rejections. When I was young, I thought I could endure anything; my little successes would build. They did the opposite. After some awards and a couple of books, everything dried up. Being outside academia, I feel I’m competing with MFAs multiplying like zombies. With no connections, I haven’t a chance.
Now rejection slips are causing me to question my writing. Should I be composing those strangulated poems with two-line stanzas? The ones that leave out so much that the poem is nothing but a few images? Should I be writing poems about childhood atrocities instead of the wry, resigned observances of life so characteristic of people my age—the ones who survive this long with a sense of humor? Is it possible to persuade myself to live without validation like Emily Dickinson? Can one write without an audience?
Poets are like social media addicts. If it isn’t shared, it doesn’t exist. If no one reads your poem, you don’t exist. If you can persuade yourself to believe otherwise, please do! You will be happier. Think how much better off you are than a novelist. Readers take one look at the first paragraph of a novel and wham, out it goes. You have many more poems than a fiction writer has fictions.
There are some practical solutions. Call a moratorium on submissions until you’ve accumulated a few dozen poems. Then send them all out. Take full advantage of simultaneous submissions and send every poem to at least six magazines. Send them out in the fall and write with hope until spring. Chances are you won’t hear back from most magazines until the end of June when they frantically sweep out all the accumulated poems they haven’t read.
Not being a mathematician, I don’t know how to calculate odds; but given your past success, I can guess you’re a decent writer and will get a few yes votes by the end of the season. You’ll then have all summer to mourn before starting again in the fall. A period of mourning is the true reason why most magazines close down for the summer.
As for feeling more hopeful when young, that’s characteristic of the young and naïve. Your work hasn’t changed, and you know perfectly well that you can’t write a style that you don’t even want to read, a style that makes you gag just to describe. You know what and how you want to write. The world might come back to it, but the world might not. The same has happened to better poets than you, as you well know.
One thing you have now that you didn’t when young and hopeful is the knowledge that life can take bad turns for any reason or no reason. Those bad times can last many years. But you endure. You know how to get back in the game. When you get to be my age, you’ll see that endurance is sometimes the best success we can hope for.
Your Ancient Oracle
Category: SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing