Submit or Die in Obscurity

How To Build Writerly Resilience

I’ve been reading Jane Friedman’s The Business of Being a Writer over the past few weeks. It is a smart book about all the nonwriting stuff that goes into having a writing career, however we may define it. And one quote has stuck with me particularly.

“Resilience in the face of rejection and disappointment is perhaps the biggest key to success [in writing].”

In my early twenties, I was lucky enough to be roommates with a writer. She was older and a great deal more experienced than me, however she took my beginning writerly ambitions and my poems seriously. I submitted my first poems to a literary magazine, and when I was sent a rejection form she said to me, “Congratulations! You are a real writer now!”

How does a writer become resilient even without having a good writer roommate?

Become a reader for a literary journal. The slush pile is mighty. As you read submissions, you will quickly see that all good writing does not get immediately published and that rejection is not personal. You might like something, but another reader doesn’t. I once rejected a poem from my small grad school literary journal that I read years later in Poetry.

Terri Lynn Coop says it better (scroll down to the comments).

Submit a lot. Make a routine for submission. Do your research, but don’t pin your hopes on an individual journal, grant, agent, or contest. The more you submit, the more you will be rejected, but also the more you will be accepted. The year I decided to submit to three places a week was my best year of publications ever, even if I didn’t manage to do it all year. As soon as you get rejected, send the work out again.

Make sure your submissions are good (not to mention typo free) before you send them out the first time and do not reread them before submitting after that. Feel the self-doubt and submit it anyway.

Find a sense of self-worth elsewhere. I don’t know how to tell you to do that really, but find a hobby that brings you pleasure and people that support you. This is very important.

Stay off social media. Sometimes you’re going to feel like shit even if you are a resilient person. Sometimes you’re going to feel like everyone but you has a book, a prize, the best spouse ever, perfect children, a clean home, and a new kitten. Get off social media and find the hobbies and people and books that sustain you.

When you can’t write, read something good.

How do you find the courage to submit another day?

4 thoughts on “How To Build Writerly Resilience”

  1. I’m honestly skeptical of the “flaw” of having a typo or spelling error in a submission letter. I suspect that since the slush pile is mighty, that the readers are looking for any “objective” excuse to dismiss a submission so they can move on to the next one. A typo is a sign of some writerly character flaw and thus the submission is no damned good. I’ve had stories published with spelling errors in them that no one caught or else didn’t consider objectionable. Yet in a submission letter that I don’t spend months/years poring over, a typo is a problem?


  2. I needed to read this today. Thanks, Ellen. I sent two pieces out to 16 journals last year and have received 31 rejections (still waiting on one). It’s time to make another round of submissions instead of pretending I’ll actually take time to submit to carefully chosen places that do not accept simultaneous subs.
    Speaking of typos, I had my first print publication last year. It would have been sweeter, though, if they had spelled my last name correctly. I certainly spelled it right when I submitted it!


    1. Congrats, Amy! And UGH about the last name.

      (Some of the no simultaneous places have quick turnarounds. But when they don’t, I possibly calculate the chance of my actually getting two things accepted at the same time and send anyway.)


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