Thank you for signing up for this newsletter! (You may be receiving this because you signed up two years ago for what was supposed to be a “weekly fiction newsletter.” Obviously that didn’t happen. 😅)
This newsletter will be about writing, creative resources, random media I’m consuming, and of course, SPICY MEMES.
Last Friday, I published two short stories! I’ve published a few personal essays in the past, but this was my first time publishing fiction. “Keeping Tabs” is a flash fiction piece in Jellyfish Review about the dissolution of a relationship as told through browser tabs. “There Is No Human Resources Department at the Candy Cooperative” is a short story in Catapult about the dark side of working at a pop-up museum. While I’m extremely happy to see these out in the world, I know it’s all too easy to only see the finished work and not realize how the (short story) sausage gets made. I wanted to talk a bit about the writing and submission process as someone who has a full-time job and is honestly just Googling their way through life.
From "what if...?" to a full draft
To be very clear, these were written and submitted before the pandemic hit. The only creative things I’ve been able to do these days are bake and make shitty TikToks. Both of these pieces have been two years in the making and came out of The 100 Day Project I did in 2018 where I wrote 750 words of fiction every day for 100 days.
My short story started out as an exploration of the question, “What if you worked at a pop-up museum like the Museum of Ice Cream?” It’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to realize that fiction is really just asking “What if…?” over and over again. I wrote the first ~800 words in 2018, but it was mostly just scene-setting. I liked the idea of setting a story in one of the Instagram museums that had overtaken my social media feeds, but there was zero plot. A fun setting is not a story. I set it aside until the fall of 2019 when I fleshed it out into a full story in response to a writing group prompt that my friend Carolyn came up with. PS: Carolyn runs Modern Doing, an interview series which I’ve found super helpful and is a great resource focusing on creativity, pragmatism, and balance. I incorporated my writing group’s feedback while attending a Side Project Sessions event in February, the first weekend it snowed in New York.
Putting yourself out there
Submitting these stories was also a crash course in learning to accept rejection. I submitted my flash fiction piece to a contest last summer and though it didn’t win, an editor at that publication reached out to me because they were interested in the story for their website if I was open to edits. We went through a few rounds of edits but they ultimately decided it wasn’t a good fit.
I went into a negative spiral and refused to submit anything anywhere until January of this year, when I thought back to something the author Lisa Ko had mentioned at a book club: she aimed to get 50 rejections in one year.
Rejection was familiar, expected. It was also a dare: You think I’ve never done anything? I’ll show you. I set a goal to get 50 writing rejections in a year and created a spreadsheet to log the stories I sent out, the grants and residencies I applied to. By the end of the year, I had sent out 25 submissions and received four acceptances, more than I’d gotten in any other year. A story that had been rejected 27 times was finally published.
New year, new me, new rejections! I made a spreadsheet to log my submissions, because if I was going to get rejected, I might as well make it organized and visually appealing. I started using external submission deadlines to finish revising work and scoured the websites of my favorite writers to find places where I could submit. Also, I found that emailing or pitching an actual editor was often a better route than sending things off into the ether that is Submittable.
What I learned
This whole process has taught me that the work takes time. SO MUCH TIME. Writing takes time. Editing takes time. Putting work aside and finding your way back to it takes time. Submitting and hearing back from places takes time. Working with an editor sending drafts back and forth takes time. But it’s so important to put in the time. If I hadn’t spent 100 days writing (mostly bad) fiction, I wouldn’t have even had drafts or ideas to start from. Whether or not writing projects are actually useful is really up to you. I want to write about this more in the future, but for me, I like that they force me to generate new work without psyching myself out before I’ve even put pen to paper. If I hadn’t had a supportive group of fellow writers with whom to write and receive feedback, my response to a writing prompt would never have turned into an actual story.
It’s easy to look back now and create a narrative (ha ha ha) of how this all came to be. But at no stage was success ever guaranteed. The work has to go on. But I’ve found it less daunting when it’s broken down into smaller steps. Write a bad first draft. Maybe a second draft. Show it to some trusted friends and readers. Revise. Revise revise revise. Figure out the point at which you can revise no longer. Submit. Wait. Hope. Reward myself with a Mei Li Wah pork bun.
I don’t know if I’ll make it to 50 rejections this year, but I look forward to trying.
- The 100 Day Project
- “Where Do You Get Your Ideas?” by Neil Gaiman
- I didn’t know the first thing about writing cover letters for literary journals but found these resources helpful. You should do your research, follow the submission guidelines, and keep the cover letter short and sweet.
- Modern Doing
- Side Project Sessions
- “Not Finishing My Novel Would Have Ruined My Life” by Lisa Ko
It’s Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, so I’ve been reading books by Asian American authors. I loved New Waves by Kevin Nguyen and just finished rereading one of my favorite childhood books, Yang the Third and Her Impossible Family by Lensey Namioka.
I’ve been meaning to reread Normal People by Sally Rooney before I watch the TV show, but I found myself picking up and blowing through Samantha Irby’s hilarious essay collection Wow, No Thank You instead.