Why I’m Not Writing: Procrastination

Let’s talk about procrastination, one of the myriad demons that plague writers and keep them from achieving their goals. I believe procrastination generally stems from fear. You know, fear of failing, fear of writing badly, fear of that really difficult scene that’s out of your comfort zone, and so on, and so on. This is why I procrastinate, anyway.

Procrastination’s enabling bosom buddy is distraction, and, well, the writer’s world is chocked full of distractions (I’m sitting in front of one right now). I typically fall prey to the following distraction duo.

  • Something more “important.” Instead of working on the thing that scares me, I must write this blog post, or edit this short story, or start writing this novel outline. This is a tricky one because I’m still writing and being productive, but I’m absolutely avoiding the project I should be working on (he says, kind of avoiding the next revision of his novel). Shit, I may have created an entire blog for this purpose . . .
  • Internet and social media. Sometimes I tell myself my internet nonsense is actually “something more important,” you know, like, uh, marketing and stuff. Usually, though it’s more like: Yes, I know I need to start writing, but I need to watch these twelve YouTube videos about a dude restoring a one-hundred-year-old kitchen knife he found buried in his backyard. (Oddly, watching someone methodically remove rust is really soothing). Note, reading Rejectomancy posts does not count as procrastinating. I promise. 🙂

So, how do you deal with procrastination and distraction? Every writer who gets anything done has some method, but this is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. Here are three methods I’ve employed in the past and how well they’ve worked for me.

  1. Iron Will. Yes, some writers defeat procrastination and distraction by just giving them both the middle finger and getting on with it. I know writers who sit down at their desks and say to themselves, “I will now write for eight straight hours,” and then, you know, do that. Crazy, right? I mean, for God’s sake, who’s checking their Facebook and Twitter feeds?! I have nothing but mad respect for these authors, but for we mere mortals such rigorous devotion can be difficult. I’ve had some success with this method, usually because I’m under the gun with a deadline and it’s write-or-die time.
  2. Distraction elimination. Some folks leave their homes and write on laptops or other devices that aren’t connected to the internet, so giving in to distraction and procrastination isn’t even an option. This is similar to the Iron Will strategy, though more attainable because you can’t access the thing keeping you from writing, so you might as well write. This is certainly effective, though it does require you to have a dedicated writing machine. I’ve tried this a number of times with some success. I also find changing your writing location every once in a while–a coffee shop, a park, a library, whatever–can be good for staying on task. Thing is, I’m not a big fan of writing away from my desk, so I don’t use this tactic as often as I could.
  3. Giving in. A little. This is my favorite and the one I use the most. It involves giving in to those distractions a little without going too far down the rabbit hole. What I do is make a deal with myself, and that deal is, “Hey, if you write 500 words or edit 25 pages, you can screw around on the internet for 10 minutes or work on that blog post a little.” Seems childish, I know, but it totally works for me, and I can bang out 2,000-3,000 words or edit 100 pages in a day pretty reliably. Of course, screwing around on the internet might be actual work too (research, answering emails, etc.), but if I want to watch that rust removal video, I don’t have to feel guilty. Well, I don’t have to feel guilty about not writing for 10 minutes.

How do you deal with distraction and procrastination? Tell me about it in the comments.

Weeks of Writing: 2/25/19 to 3/17/19

Well, as you can see, I fell a bit behind with these weekly updates, so I’m just gonna go ahead and get caught up all at once. 🙂

Words to Write By

The quote this week comes from science-fiction and fantasy novelist Fred Saberhagen

“I had immediate success in the sense that I sold something right off the bat. I thought it was going to be a piece of cake and it really wasn’t. I have drawers full of—or I did have—drawers full of rejection slips.”

–Fred Saberhagen

I think this an interesting quote about rejection because it highlights something important. Success does not (necessarily) put an end to rejection. Sure, it might change form, but rejection is still probably a part of a writer’s life despite all the accolades they may acquire. I’ve fallen prey to this misconception myself (on a vastly smaller scale than Fred Saberhagen, of course). When I made my first pro sale, I thought, “Okay, I’ve passed that hurdle. Things are gonna get easier now.” Well, four years and a couple hundred rejections later, I’m still waiting for it to get easier. I don’t mean to be a downer here, and things have gotten easier in the sense that I have more understanding of the process, the industry, and what to expect from it. I treasure my successes, try to revel in them, and most of all, let them serve as a buffer between me and the (still) inevitable rejections to come.

The Novel

Well, I’m back on the revision wagon for my novel Late Risers. Like I mentioned in a previous update, I’m trying to be a lot more organized and surgical with my revisions this time, and I’m taking pains to incorporate my agent’s feedback in the smartest and most efficient way. Currently, I’m reading through the book, summarizing each chapter in a spreadsheet, and making note of where I need to make the big changes (which is primarily adding material). Essentially, I have a flow chart that will help me decide where the changes and new material need to go AND how they will affect later chapters. Although there’s more preparation with this method, I think it’ll make the actual revision easier and more effective.

Short Stories

I’ve been a bit more active with short stories lately.

  • Submissions Sent: 7
  • Rejections: 3
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 2
  • Shortlist: 0

This looks more impressive than it is since it covers three weeks instead of just one. Still, I’m up to 23 submissions for the year, which is a little off my pace for a goal of 100. I need to send 4 more in March to catch up, essentially, and I don’t think that’ll be an issue. The acceptance is a fun one in that it’s my first microfiction submission and acceptance.

The Blog

Six blog posts over the last few weeks, but I’ll just highlight the important ones.

3/6/19: 300 Rejections or THIS. IS. NOT FOR US!

In this post I discuss reaching the milestone of 300 rejections and what it means to me.

3/8/19: Charting the Rejection Progression

This post deals with looking at the types of rejections you’re receiving from a publisher and if they indicate any progress toward an acceptance.

3/14/19: The Rejectomantic Arts: Reading the Wait

Is there any merit to using rejectomancy on other parts of the submissions process? This posts seeks to answer that question.

Goals

It’s pretty much all revisions, all the time here, but I’d like to get a few more short stories out as well. I’d really love it if I could turn the revised novel over to my agent by mid-April, and I think that’s doable.

Very Short Stories

As I mentioned in my last update, I’ve been writing microfiction on Twitter under the #vss365 hashtag. I started on February 23rd, and I haven’t missed a day. It’s been a blast, and one of those little Twitter scribbles became my first microfiction submission and acceptance. Below are three of my favorites I’ve written in the past weeks and the ones that seemed to resonate with folks the most (based on Twitter impressions, likes, and retweets). If you’d like to read the microfiction in real time, just follow me on Twitter @Aeryn_Rudel.

March 2nd – Prompt: Listen

I don’t watch Lucky work. It creeps me out. My job is talking, his is making people receptive to talking. He comes out of the garage, wiping blood from his knuckles, that weird satisfied look on his face.

“You’re up.”

“Can he still talk?”

Lucky shrugs. “He can listen.”

March 4th – Prompt: Improvise

The apocalypse taught me to improvise, to use brains and instincts I never knew I had. Every tin can is a way to collect rain water, every rusted-out old car potential shelter, and every person I meet . . .

Well, let’s just say I can “improvise” the taste of chicken.

March 16th – Prompt: Question

When death came for me, I refused to go. So it asked me a question. “When should I return?” Like a fool, I said never. That was a long, long time ago, and now I spend the endless stretch of years asking my own question. “Where is death?” I’ve yet to get an answer.

Publications

Two publications over the last few weeks. The first was a microfiction piece called “Treed” with 50-Word Stories. The second was a flash horror piece called “Far Shores and Ancient Graves” with NewMyths. You can read both by following the links below.

“Treed”

Published by 50-Word Stories (free to read)

“Far Shores and Ancient Graves”

Published by NewMyths (free to read)


How was your writing week(s)? Tell me about it in the comments.

The Rejectomantic Arts: Reading the Wait

As you know, rejectomancy is the practice of divining hidden meaning from rejection. This is the most commonly done with rejection letters, but rejectomancy is a broad tent sheltering many mystical writerly arts. You see, a writer looks for meaning, patterns, and validation in more than just rejection letters. They will attempt to apply other forms of literary prognostication to, well, just about everything related to the submission process. In this post we’ll examine the merits (or lack thereof) of one of these esoteric arts: reading the wait.

What is reading the wait? It is the rejectomantic practice of finding hidden meaning not in the rejections themselves but how long it takes for them to arrive. I’ve touched on this subject in past blog posts, but this time I have a sterling example of how it works (in my brain, at last).

There’s one pro publisher to whom I’ve submitted over a dozen times without an acceptance, though I’ve gotten close (and I’ll keep trying). I have enough data points on when they send rejections I think I can see patterns and then apply a little rejectomancy. Here’s what I mean. According to Duotrope, this market rejects a story on an average of sixteen days and accepts a story on an average of thirty-eight days. So, if one of my stories is held beyond sixteen days, I may begin to hope. I have other data points too. I received a higher-tier rejection after twenty-nine days, so if a story is held longer than that, I may really begin to hope. Finally, I received a close-but-no-cigar rejections after forty-three days, which means if I start getting into the the mid-thirties, I think, “Hey, maybe I have a real chance.”

But is there any real information to be gained by my literary tea leaf reading? Maybe a little, depending on the market, but you shouldn’t hang your hat on it. The publisher above is pretty consistent, and most of my form rejections have come within a few days of their average response time, but a few have come as many as eleven days after. It’s possible the longer this market (or any market) holds a story the better, but there are so many factors that could influence the wait time that have nothing to do with your story (a large glut of submissions, editors or slush readers on vacation, when you send the submission, etc.). In other words, it can be misleading to read too much into it. This is especially true with markets that send further consideration letters. A market like Apex or Pseudopod, for example, will straight up tell you they’re holding your story for further consideration or kicking it up to the editors. No rejectomancy necessary (and, yes, I think it’s okay to hope a little at that point).

In summation, it’s fun to read into wait times, but, as hard as it may be, I wouldn’t put much stock in it. I’ve had a market with an average wait time for acceptances of seventy-five days accept my story in three, and a market with a rejection wait time of four days send me a form rejection in sixty. After three-hundred-some rejections, I’ve come to the conclusion it’s likely best to look at each submission in a vacuum with it’s own set of invisible parameters and wait times unknowable to even the most skilled rejectomancer. It might not be as fun, but it’ll be easier on your sanity. 🙂


Thoughts on reading the wait? Tell me about it in the comments.

Charting the Rejection Progression

As I’ve discussed many times on the blog, there are different tiers of rejection letters that may indicate how close you might have came to an acceptance. Now, spread across multiple publishers, the differences in these rejections may not be so apparent, but when they come from the same publisher you can often see the progress you’re making. As usual, I have examples!

I’m going to show you three rejections from the same pro market, and I think you’ll see the progression I’m talking about.

Rejection 1*

Thank you for considering [publisher] for your story, [story title]. 

Unfortunately we have decided not to accept it. We wish you the best of luck finding a home for your story elsewhere. 

A polite but unremarkable standard form rejection like you might see from a dozen different publishers. I racked up five or six more just like this, but I was undeterred. This is very tough market, and I knew I was gonna have to dial in my submission targeting to have a chance of getting through.

Rejection 2

Thank you for considering [publisher] for your story, [Story Title]. 

Though several of our staff members enjoyed the story, it did not receive enough votes to make it to the third and final round of voting. We wish you the best of luck finding a home for this story elsewhere and hope you will consider us for future submissions. 

Well, okay, now we’re getting somewhere. As they said in this very informative rejection, the story made some progress, but ultimately it wasn’t for them. I learned some things here. This story is a bit different from what I’d been sending, so in my next original fiction submissions to this publisher I tried to choose work closer in tone and voice to this one.

Rejection 3

Thank you for considering [publisher] for your story, [story title]

Unfortunately we have decided not to accept it. 

As much as we wish we could, we can’t publish every good story that comes our way. Truthfully, we’re forced to return a great many stories with merits that make them well worthy of publication, including yours. 

Your story did, however, reach the final stage of our selection process–one among an elite group. Less than 5% of stories make it this far. That is no small feat. 

We wish you the best of luck finding a home for your story elsewhere, feel confident of your success in doing so, and hope to receive submissions from you in the future. 

Now this is a good rejection and it tells me so much. I know my story got close, so I learned a lot about the kind of stories they’re looking for. They also sent me detailed feedback, which was immensely helpful, and I’ve since revised the story based on the issues they called out. It’s a better story now, and I feel pretty confident it’ll find a home soon.

So, what conclusions can we draw from this progression? For one, don’t give up on a market, especially a tough one, just because you’re racking up rejections. This is even more important if you’re getting rejections like the last two examples. Sometimes rejections are like playing a game of Battleship– a few close misses can tell you an awful lot about where your target might be. Also, it’s important to understand when you get one of those higher-tier or close-but-no-cigar rejections from a market like this, you likely have a good and salable story on your hands. Yes, it wasn’t right for this publisher, but you can have some confidence the next one (or the one after that) might dig it.

*As I often do, I removed certain elements from these rejections that might identify the publisher or story in question. My goal, of course, is never to “call out” an editor or publication for a rejection (that’s stupid and immature) but to present informative examples like these so we can learn from them.


Thoughts on these rejections? Do you have a rejection progression of your own? Tell me about it in the comments.

300 Rejections or THIS. IS. NOT FOR US!

A few days ago I received my 300th rejection. Well, that’s not entirely true, but it’s the 300th since I started tracking my submissions diligently through Duotrope, so I’m gonna run with it for the cool 300 Spartans vibe.

How do I feel hitting this milestone? Pretty good, actually. It is a lot of rejections, but just about right, I think, for how long I’ve been submitting and for the markets I’ve been submitting to. I also think the numbers show some serious progress both in the amount I’m submitting and how many stories are getting through despite all those rejections. Now, what else can we learn from all those rejections? What rejectomantic secrets does the data hold? Let’s dive in and take a look.

Rejections by Year

Year Rejections
2012 5
2013 12
2014 27
2015 38
2016 42
2017 60
2018 100
2019 16 (so far)

At some point in 2012 I discovered Duotrope and started tracking my submissions there. I was still pretty tentative with submitting short fiction, as you can tell my the minuscule number of rejections. I had been writing and editing professionally (mostly in the tabletop gaming industry) for some time, but the world of short fiction submissions was still new to me. My submission rate (and rejections) went up every year after that, and last year I hit the vaunted 100-rejection mark. We’ll see what this year brings, but I’m currently on pace for roughly the same number of rejections as last year (but hopefully more acceptances).

Wait Times

Days Notes
Fastest 0 10 minutes
Slowest 419
Average 27

Yeah, that note on the fastest turn time is not a mistake. That rejection came ten minutes after I sent the submission. I don’t think that a record I’m gonna break any time soon.

The slowest rejection is also kind of a strange one. After about 90 days I sent a submission status query. I got no response, so I sent a withdrawal letter a few weeks later and began submitting the story elsewhere. Nearly a year later, I received a rejection, and a shortlist, we almost published you rejection at that.

As you can see, the average is about where you’d expect it, even with the two outliers. In my experience, most genre markets are going to get back to you in around a month or less.

Most Rejected Stories

Rejections Notes
23 No acceptances
17 Accepted
10-12 7 stories, 4 acceptances

Okay, so this one highlights my personal philosophy on submissions, namely that getting a story accepted has a lot to do with putting the right story in front of the right editor at the right time. So, yes, I do have a hard-luck loser twenty-three rejections, but that story has been short-listed three times and received a lot of good feedback, so I keep sending it out, and I believe it’ll find a home eventually.

The second story was rejected seventeen times before it was finally accepted, and it was similar to the first story in that it racked up short-lists and personal rejections, but I just needed to find the right market for it.

Finally, I have seven stories that have been rejected ten times or more, and I’ve sold four of them, and the other three are out for submission right now.

Most Rejected Markets

Rejections Notes
28 13 acceptances
16 no acceptances

Yep, twenty-eight rejections from a single market is a lot, but that number is a little deceiving since they’ve also published me thirteen times. I also tend to send them submissions in batches, so that inflates the numbers a bit.

The second market is a pro market that I’ve been trying to crack for a long time. My last submission got achingly close, and I hope to place a story with them soon.

Unique Stories/Markets

Total Accepted
Unique Stories 65 32
Unique Markets 95 13

My total rejections comprise sixty-five unique stories, roughly half of which I’ve managed to publish. That’s a pretty good ratio, I think, and it doesn’t count a number of stories that were one and done submissions (that’s becoming a little more common for me).

I have been rejected by ninety-five unique markets, thirteen of which have published me at some point. This number needs a little explanation. For one, it doesn’t include markets that I’ve submitted to and have not yet rejected me (there are a few). It also includes a number of publishers, twenty-six in fact, that went out of business after a single submission. Many of the remaining markets I don’t submit to any longer, and I’d say my core target publishers is probably about fifteen to twenty semi-pro and pro magazines/zines, with the occasional anthology or contest thrown in.


I won’t bore you with more stats, but I think these numbers give a pretty good snap shot of what 300 rejections means. We’ll talk again when I hit 400 rejections. 🙂

Hit any rejection milestones of your own lately? Tell me about it in the comments.