Rejections Update or: The Speadsheet That Ate My Life

Where I’m at:

  • Rejections: 22
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Total submissions: 48
  • That breaks out to 23 poems being read by editors (or undergrads in charge of slush piles) a total of 207 times.
  • Total submissions last year at this time: 0

Meanwhile I am still doing a one-week-per-month “poetry cleanse,” and that’s the main way I’m generating new work and working through revisions.

Reader, may I be perfectly frank about this experience?

It’s fucking exhausting.

Some organizational issues that have come up:

  • It’s getting harder to keep track of versions. There have been a couple poems I sent out where I find I’m relieved when it gets rejected, because I’ve since revised it. I suppose this is a known hazard of Poet Life.
  • The spreadsheet has become a bit unwieldy. In the process of putting together packets that are appropriate to each journal, I’ve gradually lost my neat “Group A / Group B / Group C” logic. At this point I’m just keeping one poem at no more than 10 places, though, in looking at Duotrope’s data on acceptance rates, I am highly unlikely to have to pull a poem. Here’s a bird’s eye view of the spreadsheet now:
“Hope: A Conceptual Artwork”

But you know, I can deal with all that. The real issue is that I feel I’ve lost any sense of joy in this process. I feel beaten down. I’ve often approached burn-out in my day job, but to come up against it in my writing practice is a fun new experience.

I was watching a documentary on the making of Sense8, and the cast and crew were talking about the way the Wachowskis work:

“It’s really incredible to watch how they work. When they show up on a set, they use everything.”

“They are constantly open to inspiration, and taking inspiration from wherever in the atmosphere, the soil, the people, whatever that’s there at the moment, and take what they have on the page… as a blueprint. They allow it to come to life and be alive in that moment.”

“They enjoy putting things together; they enjoy trying things. We, often times, we’ll cut things one way, it’ll work, but let’s try this way. Let’s try something like this. Let’s try it like that.”

“Let’s just try things, because that’s what we do.”

“We try things. Yeah. Let’s try this.”

As I listened to this (and rewound it like three times) I thought, yes, this is what the work looks like. And what I’m doing now feels like the exact opposite of this. And I realized that I don’t need to keep up with some arbitrary goal. And I felt a weight lift off of me, a weight I didn’t even acknowledge I was carrying.

What is creativity? It’s labor, for sure, sometimes difficult labor. But it leaves you with more satisfaction and ambition, not less. In the past months, I’ve really lost that lightness in the midst of my dark, stressed “submit all the time” mood. “Let’s just try things” implies a sense of deep confidence in your process. It says that possibility is as important as the numbers. That progress is not always linear or planned.

Being rejected repeatedly is also a kind of labor. It’s good to approach it as a game, for sure. But it’s also demoralizing, and I have to acknowledge that.

Am I just not cut out for this?

I could do with less torture, and more trust.

Film editors discussing Wachowski sisters’ process

Rejections Update or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Spreadsheet

While I’m not yet on track to hit 100 rejections in 2017, I do have exponentially more submissions out than I did last year at this time.

What my submissions spreadsheet looks like:


  • Rejections so far: 3
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Total submissions: 21
  • Total submissions last year at this time: 0

I currently have three separate groups of poems out to journals/contests; each packet has between three and five poems. I guess you could call this cheating as far as the 100 rejections project goes, but I figured it’s more important to get things circulating than to have each packet be the maximum possible size.

As I send poems out, I’ve been putting them on a master list called “finished.” (Let’s accept on faith for the moment that anything is ever finished.) I added a column for category or theme… which is cool.. now I can see, for example, that I have more Greek myth poems than I thought I did. I have no idea if this means I’ll ever have a themed manuscript. I generally feel that I write too catholically to ever produce such a thing, despite how popular they are right now. But as far as the next iteration of the/a book, well, it’s not exactly “in progress”… but I’ll call it “closer to existing” than it was a few months ago.

What my “finished poems” tab looks like:

finished poems 2

What I look at when I start to lose energy:

mediocre white man
As another poet said of our current administration, “I will never have imposter syndrome again.”

In other news, a poet friend made this book cover art out of my recent hand x-ray. In honor of International Women’s Day:

jeanne obbard tired of your shit

This is not the book you’re looking for

So, I have a draft of a poetry collection. I had put it together to submit to a contest with an immovable deadline. [Outcome: I am not a Yale Younger Poet.] Even though the timing wasn’t right and I didn’t have enough good material, I worked hard on the shape of that potential book.

And now I realize I have to throw it out and start over.

Because the way I actually write does not match up to the way I wanted to write. The structure, which I put together like an elaborate puzzle? Was not organic to the things I actually write about. The book I had in my head is not the book I’m going to end up with.


New possible sections for a collection of poems:

Part I.  Angry poems, with hints of social criticism.

Part II.  Depressed poems, with overuse of winter tropes.

Part III.  Poems in which I come to terms with anger and depression and reach something as close to zen enlightenment as I’m capable of. Overuse of fall and spring tropes.



Yeah, I think I’ve got this nailed down. This time.

Poetry Grind #2 Update

(Read about Poetry Grind #1 here.)

Poetry Grind #2 is in progress, instigated once again by the amazing K.T. Landon! This time we have 9 members; some of us are the same as last time and some are different.

It’s… different. I’m having a harder time generating new stuff. I think that’s just… life, honestly. A lot more static interfering with the signal.

On the other side of that, I’ve been using the grind as motivation to go back to older stuff that needs revising. Like, neeeeeeeds revising. Or needs to be summarily DELETED.

Do you ever just delete old work? I was always like “Save All The Things!” But in the process of moving house, I  ended up donating and throwing away bags and bags of stuff. It was easier than I thought it would be. And it was a shock to the system that I’m still recovering from, but that I needed. So now I’m doing the same thing with old drafts that never went anywhere. If there are one or two good lines in a draft, I copy/paste them into an “inspiration” document, then delete the rest.

I think the reason this works for me is that when I re-read things I don’t like, I have a really strong emotional reaction to it. I can’t stand the self-indulgence and pretentiousness. It makes me depressed and irritated. And since I’ve been keeping a journal for [redacted] years, it’s not like I don’t have those same thoughts written down somewhere else.

So I’m kind of feeling less precious about every single piece of writing.




Some art stuff



Life gets increasingly complicated over time. I tend to take on multiple little projects, and since I have a day job, I sometimes have to cull my activities so I can refocus on writing.

So thank you to the friend who suggested I should have a crafting room in my new place. I had been thinking of it as a writing room, but it should be more.

Over the years I have undertaken a lot of amateur art projects. Lithographs and artist’s books, pottery and collaged valentines. I like to lose objectivity in the embroidery floss aisle at the fabric store. I have a mild obsession with sewing handbags. For several months, I kept a florid visual journal using colored pencils. I used to take weird Polaroid photographs for kicks (good times, good times). I’m not saying I’m good at any of these things – that’s really not the point – just that part of valuing creativity is that the creative thing tends to leak out everywhere. Packing and moving the detritus of all these projects (or, when I was desperate and out of time, throwing them in the dumpster) forced me to think about the nature of art-making.

And this is my conclusion: art is essentially – well, disposable isn’t the right word – let’s say in transit. It passes from me and out to the world. I don’t mean that the product is worthless. My nephew wore the bracelets until they fell apart, my friends seem to love their valentines (thanks for humoring me, guys!), and somebody at the Goodwill store is going to be happy to discover that bag I made out of batik turtle fabric (uh, I hope). And yes, my mom still keeps all my pottery.

But art, the product, has meaning as we give it away.* It starts life inside us, but it’s really complete when it’s gone into someone else’s head and rearranged things a little.


* Or sell it, if you’re a professional.

Organize Schmorganize

The folders of incipient genius

How do you physically organize your writing? Especially if you’re a poet, after a couple of years you end up with a lot of individual pieces of writing in ever-evolving states of completion.

I used to be a binder aficionado. I preferred black three-rings with clear plastic slots on the spine that I labelled “In Progress,” “Completed Work” or “Writing – Other.” And special write-on divider tabs that came in sets of 20 or more. Did I mention that as a child I used to keep all my used airline tickets in a plastic pouch to play “secretary”? So yes, my office supplies disorder (OSD) goes back a ways. But after about ten years of the binder method I realized that it was getting more and more cumbersome to put drafts away, I was letting the piles build up, and I was constantly losing good pieces of writing. Plus, who wants to spend hours hole-punching papers? Shorter: It’s not a good system if it can’t overcome my natural laziness.

So I took a page out of my friend Deb’s book, and switched to folders. Nothing cute, fancy, expensive, or hard to duplicate; just cheapo, manila, straight-cut folders. (1/3 and 1/5 cuts make me INSANE WITH HATE, but that’s another topic.) And as long as I keep them roughly alphabetized, it works as well as anything can in a small space. Want to group all the poems that need work, or all the poems that will go into a single manuscript? The folder method lends itself to the task.

The switch-over process was not pretty, but it was worth it. I’m still hanging onto my 5×8 card box to keep track of submissions though.

So how do you organize your drafts?

a) Folders.

b) Binders.

c) Fancy-pants options like this thing. (I can vouch for that thing. It is awesome. But I don’t use it for writing, because again, I’m lazy. Too much hole-punching.)

d) A giant misshapen pile on my desk.

e) All my drafts are electronic, you tree-killer.

f) It’s all in The Cloud, baby.

g) Organize? Organizing is for DILETTANTES. I compose my works of startling genius in a WHITE-HOT FRENZY. They are written in THE BLOOD OF MY VERY SOUL. Afterwards I fall to the ground in a STATE OF EXHAUSTION. Then representatives from Poetry, APR, and possibly AGNI, humbled and awed before my inhuman level of productivity, knock softly on my door and BEG ME FOR THE FRUIT OF MY BRAIN-TREE.

The 5×8 cards of incipient rejection