by Linda Hummel
Every year, on January 1st as my friends make their resolutions about losing weight or achieving world peace, I start to dig into my writing. Then February comes, and I feel the need to restart. If I’m honest, I seem to restart once a month or so.
This year is no exception, and my goal of getting at least two pieces out a day is my summer plan. I fashioned a spreadsheet to keep track of my submissions. It is color-coded. Green when I submit; gray if it gets rejected; a brilliant fuchsia when something sells. I get really detailed in the fuchsia spaces, sometimes pasting in the editor’s email, sometimes just letting exclamation marks fly to show myself how delighted I am in my talent. Of course luck and timing play equal parts in the equation, and my spreadsheet bears witness to this, too.
Setting my goal at two pieces a day can seem daunting, even on a morning when I’m raring to go. But I also consider a revision (after a rejection) to count as “a piece.” I write personal essays—stories about my own life—that often merge into the areas of motherhood, education, or family. Rereading one of my essays that has been rejected, I often see where I went wrong. What did I mean to say? Is the reader likely to misunderstand my humor? Is this a piece that just doesn’t go anywhere? It’s amazing how much better writing can get after I’ve gotten a polite “No thanks” from an editor.
I get up insanely early in the winter and write for four hours straight. Then during the day, I check my email constantly, hoping to see a first line that says more than: “Thanks, but no thanks.”
For me, writing is as much part of my daily routine as talking to my kids, taking a walk, watching the news in the evening. Still, I seldom write on weekends, and that leads to more energy for Monday morning. For me, early in the morning is my most productive time for getting the words right. To make writing a real and lasting part of your life it makes sense to figure out your own personal rhythm and adjust your creativity to it, not the other way around.
And, of course, you have to be ready for the inevitable bumps that will come your way. Late into the afternoon recently, in the span of five minutes, this is what landed in my inbox:
A terrific website that was considering serializing my memoir got back to me. The editor began with: “I love the stories — I think they’re soulful and honest and funny, beautifully written,” but I’d already scanned down to the last line, which stood alone like a sad little kid left out of a birthday party. “My apologies.”
Two minutes later, another email rejection, full of my least favorite editor-speak: “Thank you for your submission. We’re going to respectfully decline to run it.” Here’s how I translate this one: There will never be a time we will consider your writing, which is just awful, by the way. As you can tell by my tone, which is meant to put as much distance between us as I can humanly muster, do not darken our inbox again.
I had a half-hour reprieve while I reminded myself about that third-place win in the short story contest in 6th grade. Then *bing* an email from my best friend, who helps me edit and shape my words and does it very well. She sent back a draft I had asked her to look over. Her first words: “Hmmm . . . I don’t know about this one.” She went on to give her reasons. They were abundant.
It was a trifecta fail of a writing day. I ate dinner and turned on the news, which, I figured couldn’t be more depressing than my last 12 hours. I slept well. Early this morning when my cat started walking on top of me to remind me it was time for him to eat, I was ready to dive back in and see if there were any emails from nocturnal editors about recent submissions.
Thanks for sharing this piece. It takes a thick skin and oodles of tenacity to be a writer, doesn’t it? You’ve inspired me to get back into my writing. I don’t give it near the time and effort I’d like. BTW – I appreciate your humor too.
Dear Barbara — Thanks! These words were just what I needed this morning as I sat down at my desk and thought, “Why in the world are you doing this?” Linda