Last year I took Pete Davis’ poetry class, and for my final packet I decided to experiment a little bit. While I was at work, I wrote something that was kind of flow-of-consciousness, played around with the format a little bit, and titled it “Books About.” After I turned it in, I abandoned it in the poetry folder on my laptop and forgot about it.
Over the summer, I attended the Midwest Writers Workshop. There were contests being held for fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Since I had already sent in a fiction piece for something else, I rummaged through my laptop and found “Books About” for the Manny Contest. Knowing that the number of attendees would be in the hundreds, I wasn’t sure about my chances for winning anything, but I went ahead and submitted it. During all of the different events and classes, it sort of slipped my mind that there even was a contest. When they called my name during the award ceremony, I almost had a heart attack. I went up and collected my award and then sat down, feeling pretty darn satisfied with myself. When they called my name again for the overall best manuscript, or R. Karl Largent Writing Award, I was so shocked that it took me a few moments before I could get out of my chair to go get the second award. It was really a shock to me that I could win amidst all of the other wonderful writers attending. There’s a picture of this moment on Cathy Day’s blog, and it looks like I just heard a great joke.
Early in the fall semester, Sean Lovelace sent out an email about how Metazen magazine was accepting submissions for poetry from writers who had never been published before. Seeing as I fit the requirements, I decided to submit “Books About” to them. For the next month I checked Submittable obsessively. I had had submissions denied in the past, so I was preparing myself to read “Unfortunately, blah blah blah.” When I finally got an email saying that my poem had been accepted for publication, I yawped so loudly that Walt Whitman probably came back to life for a few seconds, and then ate an entire jar of pickles in one sitting to celebrate myself. I posted the link on Facebook where over 90 people liked it, and I felt like a superstar for about three weeks straight.
Getting my first publication felt like I was really getting my foot in the door. Now I have something to add on query letters, and to use as defense for those “why are you majoring in creative writing” comments at family events. I often hear people saying that they don’t want to submit to contests or magazines because they don’t think that what they have is good enough. It always makes me want to pick them up and shake them. Being rejected is part of the process; it’s inevitable, I know. But it shouldn’t keep you from trying later. I didn’t feel very confident at all about my submission, and I now have two publications under my belt. You just have to try. Not to be cheesy, but my best advice is that when you feel like you can’t do something, try anyway.