One Hundred Failures

Part of being a writer is learning to deal with failure. Failures come in all forms and contexts, of course, but I’ve found that for a writer the most common and most keenly-felt form of failure is rejection. Whether you write poetry, prose, screenplays, scripts, or pretty much anything else, you will over and over again in your time as a writer have your work rejected – by journals, publishers, agents, magazines and e-zines and plain ol’ zines. This can be disheartening, and sometimes downright scary – especially in the beginning, when the whole process of submitting work seems daunting, and the idea of your precious art being scrutinised by a professional eye makes you feel uniquely vulnerable. This is something that every writer has to get past, sooner or later.

Having spent a significant chunk of my time at university in writing workshops and seminars, I quickly got used to my work being critiqued and picked apart by my peers. Submitting to strangers, especially those working for more prestigious publications, is certainly a step beyond university workgroups; but I’ve been submitting my work to journals and websites for years now, and I feel I’ve developed a thick enough skin in that time to deal with the ever-growing slush of rejections accumulating in my inbox. Until recently, this was how I thought of rejections – as something to be dealt with, unimportant failures in the grand scheme of things but still failures just the same. But then I hit on something interesting…

At the end of last year, I stumbled across and joined a facebook group called Rejection100, a small community of around (at the time of writing) 700 artists and writers from all around the world, all united by the same goal for 2020 – to rack up, that’s right, 100 rejections over the course of the year (or, as the group describes itself, “complete failures hellbent on collecting and celebrating 100 rejections during 2020”). This idea struck a chord with me, because I’d heard it before. A tutor once told me that if a poet wants to be successful – if they want to put their work out into the world with enough persistence and tenacity to actually wind up getting some of it published – they should be submitting frequently and widely enough to wind up with around a hundred rejections a year. I thought I understood the advice back then, but it was only when I came across Rejection100 that I actually paid attention to it.

Tallying up those rejections as a side effect of your submissions isn’t enough. You have to seek out those rejections, actively submit your writing to publications you think are out of your league, share the work you’re worried doesn’t have a place, go out on a limb, take a risk, set yourself up to be disappointed. It’s only through doing so that you can really force yourself to put your work out into the world as far and wide as you need to in order to eventually get published – and, who knows, maybe one of those ‘obvious’ rejections will wind up surprising you. What I really like about Rejection100 is their attitude of welcoming and celebrating rejections as part of this process (and, amusingly, commiserating acceptances). It’s fun, it’s heartwarming, and it removes a lot of the pressure to succeed I often associate with keeping track of my writing submissions.

So far it’s early days for my rejection tally – I have only two rejections, both from the same place (Newfound, if you’re interested – and very fairly, too, as the standard of work they put out is consistently brilliant). But I have more pieces awaiting responses from journals right now than I have in years – the process of gamifying my submissions has, predictably, made the whole endeavour far more entertaining to me, and I’m genuinely excited to recieve my next rejection right now. I’m looking forward to continuing to participate in this little project throughout the year.

If you aren’t already a member of the group, and you’re a writer, some other sort of creative type, or just someone who experiences a lot of rejection generally (sorry to hear it), I think you might really benefit from joining Rejection100. I’m keeping track specifically of my writing-related rejections, but I’ve read posts from people in the group tallying failed job interviews, dismissed funding applications and, on occasion, bad dates. Whatever the specifics of your failures, I think it’s important we learn to celebrate them as examples of us putting ourselves out into the world – trying new things, experimenting, inevitably fucking up, scrabbling to save face and recover, laughing at ourselves for a solid twenty minutes, and then going off to fuck up again. It’s a mindset that I’ve come to appreciate, and you might appreciate it too. Let me know if you do decide to check the group out, or if you’re already a member – and, most importantly, let me know if you’ve tried keeping track of failures like this, and how it’s helped or hindered you. I’m always curious to learn more about how other people think through these sorts of things.

That’s all for now – stay tuned for a writers’ notes post sometime before the end of the week. For the time being, stay safe and stay happy!

-Alex xo

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