Friday Speak Out!: On Persistence

Friday, November 10, 2017
by Jan English Leary

It’s not sexy, it doesn’t call attention to itself, it’s not included in talks on craft, but I think that persistence is one of the most important tools a writer can develop. I’m not the fastest, the most talented, or the most confident writer in the room, but I am more persistent than most. All the talent in the world means nothing without persistence. How many writers give up after a few rejections, shoving the story into the real or virtual drawer, deciding not to try anymore? In many cases, the story needs one more draft or one more journal. Part of persistence of course involves a critical eye, the drive to keep polishing and learning, to see the story through more revision. Without that, persistence is just premature and presumptuous. But once the story has reached that point, the next challenge occurs.

When I started submitting stories for publication, it was before the Internet, before Submittable and Submissions Managers. These were the days of hard copies, SASEs, manila envelopes and stamps. I picked up copies of The Writer’s Market and I scoured bookstores for journals that interested me. It was time-consuming and costly. I waited for the mail every day, and often I would receive the first page of my story with a scrap of paper and a printed-out rejection. I lived for the ones with a tiny bit of encouragement: the editor’s initials, a quick note “Came close”, “We admire your talent”, “Keep us in mind.” Those words kept me going. I sent out stories like paper bombs, a bit everywhere. I slowly began to receive acceptances although my rejections continue to outweigh my acceptances by a wide margin. One of my stories was rejected 95 times before it was accepted, but I was very happy with that acceptance. Another journal gave me no encouragement for eight submissions and accepted the ninth one. What if I’d given up on that journal?

I’m not sure what need compels me to ask for acceptance in the face of so much rejection. I believe in my work, I want it to be chosen and read, I want to be part of the world of writers, but I hate asking for favors in person, hate putting people out, hate being on the line this way. As a child, when charged with going door to door to sell candy for school, I failed miserably, and I begged my parents to buy a few boxes so I wouldn’t show up with nothing. It’s not in me to do this in person. But electronically, I am fearless.

It’s low stakes, submitting from the safety and quiet of my home. Sitting in bed, wearing slippers. No one can see me. I’ve tried to develop a one-in/two-out policy. For every rejection during the regular submissions season, I send out two stories. Life is short; reporting time is long. And nothing is gained without persistence.

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photo credit John Leary
Jan English Leary's short fiction has appeared in
Pleiades, The Literary Review, The Minnesota Review, Carve Magazine, Long Story, Short Literary Journal and other publications. She has received three Illinois Arts Council Awards and taught fiction writing at Francis W. Parker School and Northwestern University. Her first novel, Thicker Than Blood, was released by Fomite in 2015. Skating on the Vertical, just released by Fomite, is her first collection of short stories. She lives in Chicago with her husband, John, an artist and former teacher. More information

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Angela Mackintosh said...

AWESOME!! Jan, I totally agree that persistence is the key to getting published. I love your one-in/two-out policy. What a great idea! Thanks for the post. :)

Nancy said...

Right on, Ms. Leary! In my blog for writers, I often use my two keywords for writers—patience and persistence. Both are very useful tools to the writer.
Nancy Julien Kopp

Marcia Peterson said...

What an inspirational post. I love the idea of being "electronically fearless."

Renee Roberson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Renee Roberson said...


If only more of us had the courage to be like you! Thank you for putting a smile on my face today and congratulations on both the rejections that kept you going and your well-deserved success.

JEL said...

Thanks to WOW for including my post. I am most grateful. What a terrific, supportive group you are. JEL

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