Rejections and the Business of Being a Writer

“I would go home in the evening and write short stories and mail them to magazine editors in New York. The stories, no matter how many times I rewrote them, were always returned, usually without comment, with unfailing promptness. I received so many rejection slips, and such an interesting variety, that I passed them neatly into a stamp collector’s album.  The only consolation I ever got out of them for many years was in visualizing how big a celebration bonfire I could make with them when I had my first short story accepted and published in a magazine.” Erskine Caldwell, “Call it Experience,” in The Creative Writer



Many many years ago – circa 1964 – I read The Creative Writer (quoted above), which is out of print now. You can find old copies, not that you necessarily need to. Much is outdated but at that time, I found it helpful. The book, a collection of instructional and inspirational essays, was published by Writer’s Digest. The magazine was my go-to place to hob-nob with writers and publishers, a publication I read through high school and even into my son’s grammar school years. He told me not too long ago that as a child he found it rather magical that it showed up no matter where we moved. My other go-to magazine was The Writer.

These magazines didn’t so much teach me how to write as offer me some knowledge of the business of writing.  The articles I read instilled a sense of perspective, reasonable expectations (do NOT read lowered aspirations), and determination. I discovered that sending my writing out into the world is like applying for a job. I do my homework and refine my technique. That improves the odds but it is still a numbers game.

Reading what others had to say about the business of studying markets, writing query letters, and submitting work helped me to understand that I had to keep on keeping on. This was a good thing. My first poem was published when I was seventeen and that created some rather unrealistic expectations. I thought I was such a hot-shot that my seventeenth year was also the year I submitted a short story to Mademoiselle magazine (closed 2001) for its annual fiction contest. The contest was for college students. I was still in high school. I lied and put Brooklyn College on the entry form. Joyce Carol Oats won.

All this is to say that while writing is our art, it is also our job and every job has its downsides. “Rejection” is one of downsides of the business of writing. Don’t let it stall you.

Apropos this post, note Victor Villaseñor’s dedication in Macho!: “To my parents …. after ten years of writing and 260 rejections – my first one! …”


Jamie Dedes:

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THE POET BY DAY: What’s it all about?

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
Mary Oliver


What’s it all about?  

In a quiet way, this site is a rebellion against elitism in the world of poetry. It specializes in featuring talented but lesser know poets and underrepresented voices. It also features poetry initiatives for peace, sustainability and social justice and poetry news, events and publication opportunities. It supports freedom of expression.

Its purpose is to gratify my own pleasure in the world of poetry, to acknowledge poets, to encourage poets and writers (including those just finding their voices) and to explore the world of poetry, to honor the space in which poetry bares witness and offers us comfort and vision.

The name “The Poet by Day” is not a reference to me. It is in part to remind myself not to stay up all night reading and writing. However fun that might be, it’s just not healthy.

“The Poet by Day” gives a nod to a desire I believe we share: that our art is/could be our day job. The name, however, is primarily meant as encouragement to take it a day at a time, to be present in this moment and in our work, and to regularly exercise the writing muscle.

I hope people write whatever the spirit moves them to write about in whatever form/s feel natural to them and without comparing their work to that of others or worrying unduly about publication.

“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.” Allen Ginsberg years and years ago in Writer’s Digest 

The daily order is to free your creative spirit, to find yourself in your art. Your poetry – or whatever subtle alchemy calls to you – is first a gift you give to yourself. All else will follow.

© 2018, text, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved

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