I think I worked harder on my writing (and related fronts) in 2017 than I have in any other year to date. I guess there’s something to be said for that, on its own, regardless of results. It is a victory to dedicate yourself to a creative pursuit that, even though it’s pretty clumsy, makes you feel like the kind of human who can access the deep love in the universe… no matter what conditions are like above ground.
It’s like finding — and using — a superpower.
On one hand, I could assess my accomplishments in 2017 as #$%&^@?!*#% because I *still* have not found a publisher for my full-length poetry manuscript. But on the other hand, I had a lot of luck getting my work into some really good journals and I went after — and scored! — some additional opportunities that bring me real joy.
Here’s what I set out to do, and here’s how it went! On achieving 2017 poetry goals:
Goal #1 / Revise my poetry manuscript January 1 to March 31
SUCCESS! I busted my ass and really pushed myself to improve the manuscript.
Goal # 2 / Submit the manuscript until it finds a home
SUCCESS-ish! It hasn’t found a home yet, but I sent it to 21 places. I have received 13 rejections but was a finalist in five of those contests. It is still part of the pool at eight places, and I continue to send out and revise.
#3 / Free write regularly, and write 6 new drafts (poems, essays or blog posts) each month April 1 to December 31
SUCCESS! Six new drafts a month for nine months would be 54. Although I didn’t pace myself as planned, I got to 54 (which was an arbitrary number, of course), or at least I’ll get to 54 when I complete this month’s 30/30 challenge. (BIG PUSH IN THE 11th HOUR!) That will give me something like 40 new poems for the year. I’ve also published 14 new blog posts (so far) and drafted one essay. I’m most proud of the rhythm I got into with free writes. By mid- to late- September I was completing a free write almost every day, a practice I’ve been able to keep up.
#4 / Submit work to 100 places
SO CLOSE (maybe)! I submitted poem packets to nearly 70 different outlets (and some of them more than once when guidelines permitted). I was unclear when I set the goal *exactly* what I was counting: packets or journals? I was unclear, also, if the presses/contests where I sent the manuscript *count.* They’d get me over 90. Either way, I didn’t reach 100, but wowza! 70 is still a lot. I think it’s more than I’ve ever done in a year, and it required a very conscious, concerted effort. It paid off! You can see exactly where I was successful here (and get links to what’s available online), but I’m stoked that 11 journals accepted 17 poems!
When it comes to the rejections — and there were lots! — about one in every four included a personal note indicating the poems were close and that I should submit again. They made it to the final rounds of editorial discussion, which means someone was advocating for my work. (Or at least that’s how I look at it.) It feels good to know that.
#5 / Continue to be part of the literary community locally and online
PARTIAL CREDIT! Each month, I intended to either attend a poetry event or write a book review. I did not keep up with that pace, but I did attend five or six readings. (Note for next year: Do a better job keeping track of this.) I was invited to read with the Naugatuck River Review at a poetry festival in Massachusetts, and I was one of the featured readers at the annual Community of Writers event in Schenectady, NY. I managed to write three reviews. One is here (Sarah Freligh’s Sad Math); another is here (Kim Addonizio’s My Black Angel). A third is forthcoming after the first of the year.
I also wanted to use my social media accounts to applaud and support others and find a way to write for a press/publication. I got bold and applied for some official gigs and made some informal offers of help. This resulted in a handful of no’s but also two opportunities! I’ve been managing the Twitter account for Tupelo Press 30/30, and I’d love it if you followed us at @TupeloPress3030. I also joined the team at The American Poetry Journal where I’ve been writing book reviews. Both projects are such a delight, and they’re pushing me to do more online again than rail against the so-called President.
#6 / Go on three poetry “adventures”
DROPPED. THE. BALL. I didn’t really get after this one. I went on a teeny-tiny mini-outing to the New York State Museum to see and write about an exhibit on ruins in Upstate NY, but that’s it. I *planned* two big poetry adventures, but they don’t happen until next year (AWP Tampa; writing retreat in the Berkshires).
What’s all this nonsense about anyway?
It may be silly to count all this — 21 of one thing; a handful of another. But I fight for every victory. Anyone who writes and submits poetry fights for every victory. It matters when you hustle and have something to show for it. I feel so grateful to have something to show for it… even if the bulk of that is the effort itself. It’s hard to say this without sounding too self-congratulatory, but I work full-time and am raising three teenage boys, including one I sent off to his first year of college this year. It’s easy to use those things as excuses for letting the writing slide (and I’ve done that plenty of times), and so, whenever I make and keep a commitment to myself, I’m damn proud of it.
Look at me go, kids! Look at me go!