Guest Blog Posts

Rejections Update or: The Spreadsheet That Ate My Life – guest blog post by Jeanne Obbard

Where I'm at:

  • Rejections: 22
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Total submissions: 48
  • That breaks out to 23 poems being read by editors (or undergrads in charge of slush piles) a total of 207 times.
  • Total submissions last year at this time: 0

Meanwhile I am still doing a one-week-per-month "poetry cleanse," and that's the main way I'm generating new work and working through revisions.

Reader, may I be perfectly frank about this experience?

It's fucking exhausting.


Some organizational issues that have come up:

  • It's getting harder to keep track of versions. There have been a couple poems I sent out where I find I'm relieved when it gets rejected, because I've since revised it. I suppose this is a known hazard of Poet Life.
  • The spreadsheet has become a bit unwieldy. In the process of putting together packets that are appropriate to each journal, I've gradually lost my neat "Group A / Group B / Group C" logic. At this point I'm just keeping one poem at no more than 10 places, though, in looking at Duotrope's data on acceptance rates, I am highly unlikely to have to pull a poem. Here's a bird's eye view of the spreadsheet now:

"Hope: A Conceptual Artwork"

But you know, I can deal with all that. The real issue is that I feel I've lost any sense of joy in this process. I feel beaten down. I've often approached burn-out in my day job, but to come up against it in my writing practice is a fun new experience.


I was watching a documentary on the making of Sense8, and the cast and crew were talking about the way the Wachowskis work:

"It's really incredible to watch how they work. When they show up on a set, they use everything."

"They are constantly open to inspiration, and taking inspiration from wherever in the atmosphere, the soil, the people, whatever that's there at the moment, and take what they have on the page' as a blueprint. They allow it to come to life and be alive in that moment."

"They enjoy putting things together; they enjoy trying things. We, often times, we'll cut things one way, it'll work, but let's try this way. Let's try something like this. Let's try it like that."

"Let's just try things, because that's what we do."

"We try things. Yeah. Let's try this."

As I listened to this (and rewound it like three times) I thought, yes, this is what the work looks like. And what I'm doing now feels like the exact opposite of this. And I realized that I don't need to keep up with some arbitrary goal. And I felt a weight lift off of me, a weight I didn't even acknowledge I was carrying.


What is creativity? It's labor, for sure, sometimes difficult labor. But it leaves you with more satisfaction and ambition, not less. In the past months, I've really lost that lightness in the midst of my dark, stressed "submit all the time" mood. "Let's just try things" implies a sense of deep confidence in your process. It says that possibility is as important as the numbers. That progress is not always linear or planned.

Being rejected repeatedly is also a kind of labor. It's good to approach it as a game, for sure. But it's also demoralizing, and I have to acknowledge that.

Do you have something say about poetry? An essay on being a poet, tips for poets, or poetry you love? is now accepting pitches for guest blog posts. 

Contact me here if you are interested! 

Jeanne Obbard received her bachelor's degree in feminist and gender studies from Bryn Mawr College, and works in clinical trial management. She was granted a Leeway Seedling Award for Emerging Artists in 2001, and attended the Greater Philadelphia Wordshop Studio and the 24PearlStreet Workshop. Her writing has appeared in American Poetry Review, Atlanta Review, Barrow Street, Cleaver, Philadelphia Stories, and The Rumpus. She can be found on the web at

10 replies »

  1. I’d love to know how other poets keep track of submissions. I am beyond frustrated with Excel and have gone back to 3×5 cards! One box for the poems, one for publications. It’s a bit of a duplicate, but it is easier to keep track of how many pubs I’ve sent a particular poem to and, of course, which poems I sent to a pub. Thoughts?


  2. This is a breath of fresh air. I have mostly given up on the mad push to submit, submit, submit. To me, it takes sooo much time. I physically cannot read all the journals out there to “get an idea of their style”, plus I’m starting to realise I must be a bit ‘style-blind’ because I only noticed recently that most journals don’t seem to publish rhyming poems whereas most of mine play with some form of rhyme so maybe that’s why they don’t want my stuff! Like you, I started losing the joy of writing them. I got rejection-fatigue. I’ll keep doing the occasional submission but mostly I’ve gone back to writing and publishing my poems (which I love and think are great!) on my own blog.

  3. An anecdote of the late George Jellenick ‘s from his (now off air) Vocal Scene hour on WQXR;
    The opera singer finished his aria, and the audience at one of the toughest opera houses yelled “besse,” meaning again. He sang it again, but again the audience yelled besse,. The singer said he had to preserve his voice for the rest of the opera, and someone in the auidence yelled, “You’re going to sing it till you get it right.” I think this says it all about revising a poem-sing it till you get it right.

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