I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of mileage from one of my essays, “The Codeine of Jordan.” First it was published in the Bellevue Literary Review (BLR). From that, I received the attention of an agent, although I was happily able to decline his pursuit, as I was already signed with my agent extraordinaire. The essay was selected as a Notable Essay in The Best American Travel Writing 2012. And I recently found out it will be published in Best Women’s Travel Writing, Volume 9 (due out in May).
But, here’s the deal: BLR was the eighth place to which I had submitted this essay. In fact, I was wondering if I should shelve the essay at the time.
All the writing boards and classes tell you to just persevere. Submit, submit, submit until you drop. But I could never get behind that. After I send something out enough times (about ten), I stop submitting it. I have many, many pieces in the morgue of my computer. Pieces that eventually felt dated. Pieces that I figure I’ll look over again when I have more distance. Pieces that I have come to decide just aren’t up to snuff. But when do you decide that?
I had piece–a short short–that I wrote an age ago. I submitted it. And, according to my trusty Excel writing log (where I keep track of everything I’ve sent out), the first response I received to it was not flattering. I can’t remember what it said, but I made the notation next to the date of rejection that simply reads, “Rude!” I came close to shelving that story, but I sucked it up and kept at it. And eventually it won first place in the Southeast Review‘s World’s Best Short-Short contest (chosen by Robert Olen Butler), and it was the first piece of writing to earn me a chunk of money!
A few essays for which I’ve gotten a great deal of encouragement (personalized rejections; being told I made it to the final round of submissions) still haven’t been published. Do I stick them away? Keep submitting? Re-work them? I don’t have an answer to this. It’s a gut feeling when to stop and when to persevere. As I finish up tweaks on my novel, though, it’s something on my mind because it’s the short pieces I work on in those in-between moments. Clearly, based on “Codeine,” I should know to push through the rejections. But it’s not always so easy and egos are fragile. Tough career I’ve chosen!