1. They don’t suit everyone, but workshops and writing groups can be a brilliant way to spark ideas and an invaluable opportunity to get critical feedback on your writing. (Don’t go until you’re ready for this. If you just want to be told how great your latest masterpiece is, show it to your partner/best friend/goldfish).
2. The title of your poem is more than a convenient reference point to help you locate it in your overstuffed electronic filing system; it is an integral part. You’re missing out on an opporutnity if you don’t make the most of it. (I learned this at a workshop.)
3. When you start submitting work to journals, you need to send a decent selection of your work: five poems, not just the one.
4. That poem you have just scribbled down is not the most amazing thing you have ever written. Not yet, anyway. Whatever you do, don’t send it off. Put it in your virtual bottom drawer for a week or so to marinate among your other festering poems. Then read it again. See? It still needs work.
5. Don’t worry about rejection. (I’m going to bang on about this because a couple of people have raised it with me lately). If you send your work out to a journal, unless you’re already an established poet, there’s a good chance it’s going to be rejected. 75% of my poems are rejected. (I can demonstrate this by means of a large elaborate spreadsheet I have used to track my output for some years now -some people find this sad; I find it invaluable).
You can minimise rejection by checking out the journal carefully beforehand to see if your work fits and only sending your very best work. But the faceless editor(s) on the end of the email/letter still might not want it. Why not? What’s the matter with them?
A. It might not fit with their current theme (which might only have emerged as the editors went through the selection process). Your interpretation of an advertised theme might not match with theirs.
B. It might be too similar to something that’s already been chosen for the issue or recently published.
C. The ediotr might not like your particular style of writing. (That’s OK, they’re allowed).
D. (Brace yourself) Your work might not be as good as the other things that have been submitted for that issue.
Every time a poem is rejected, I have another close look at it to see whether D might apply. Is there any way I can improve it? What’s missing? Is it fresh and original? Does it have anything interesting to add to the vast array of poetry that’s already sloshing about out there?
The way I deal with rejection is:
– life’s too short to fret about it
– it’s a prompt to have another good look at a poem and maybe make it better (see above)
– it might have saved me from having mediocre work published that will haunt me in years to come
-I always have a range of work out in the submission-land ether waiting to be considered; that way I always have hope.
– I don’t take it personally. One poem (or five) has been turned down by one editor. There are other poems, other editors. This time, it wasn’t to be.
– There are plenty of other things in life that make me happy, so I get on with them
– If I’m lucky, the rejection letter might contain some useful feedback from an editor that will help my writing (Alistair Paterson from Poetry NZ springs to mind).
One of my favourite writing quotes is this, attributed to Ray Bradbury
“If you write a hundred short stories and they’re all bad, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. You only fail if you stop writing.”