10k Maniacs

Giving up to go forward

Tonight I gave up.

The first short story I wrote when I re-undertook writing 4.5ish years ago was called Two Graduations. I was proud of it, and was sure it would be my first published work (soon to be followed by my first novel). Seventeen rejections and a lot of punishment to my ego later I was making new edits. I grew frustrated, and scrawled at the top: WHAT MATTERS?

So I stripped down the story to what did. The essential conflict. I rewrote it, renamed it Thanks for the Sour Persimmons, and resumed submitting. That was in 2016. And the rejections kept coming. Sometimes they came with good feedback, like the contest I entered where I paid extra for said feedback.

Hey, time is money.

I wrote other things, so Persimmons took a back seat, but I would dust it off from time to time, make new edits, find new lit mags to flog. Rejected by them all, 28 in total.

There’s a writer’s group that I sparsely attend, and tonight I decided to bring it in. Over the previous two weeks I made fresh edits, remembering all the comments I’d read and bought. They were right, it was overwritten, so I simplified the language. Clarified scenes that, with distance I saw were ill formed. All in the hopes that it would pass my fellow writers’ inspection and so be worthy of more submissions, and hopefully publication at last.

It didn’t go that way. They were complimentary, of course: that it was well-written, that I had vivid description, good dialogue, humor, surprise.


there was near-unanimous agreement that a scene should be struck, though they were split on which one. And while the description was indeed vivid, it was perhaps inappropriate for the story. Which is what I was going for—juxtaposition, like a song with bouncy music and tragic lyrics.

But I’m not here to fight their feedback but to absorb it. And I accept that this story, while precious to me, maybe isn’t publishable as-is. Though I’ve continued making revisions, it has at its core a story I wrote 4.5ish years ago. It carries artifacts of defects I’ve since corrected in my prose.

And though my skin has toughened, each rejection still dings my ego and good humor. So tonight has led me to the decision to return Thanks for the Sour Persimmons to the metaphorical drawer, filed beside my first two novels and a few other shorts. Maybe not forever: maybe it’ll be included in a compilation of “other stories” released after I die, or to fill the gap between best sellers made when I get famous and go full Chappelle.*

I want to be interviewed by James Lipton. I have all my answers to his ten questions.

So what to do in the meantime? I’ll write, just the same as I’ve done before and hopefully better. I’ll keep trying to write what matters. And in a strange way, I feel good about putting Persimmons aside. A little sad, perhaps, but free:

Didn’t know Black Box was so deep, did you?

*Dear agents and publishers: I promise I won’t do that—at least not while I’m under contract