Tracking Numbers

As someone who just spent twenty minutes following up on a step in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness proceedings at the behest of the student aid hierophants, only to be told I am not at all eligible to do the thing I was specifically instructed to do, I have fairly strong opinions about data analysis and associated forms of number-crunching.

There are, of course, useful numbers. When a story or poem is rejected, especially with kind words from an editor, it can be comforting to know that your piece was one submission out of 250, 500, or 1000. There are Clifford Garstang’s Perpetual Folly rankings, indispensable resources for gauging the relative difficulty of placing a story or poem in any given publication. And there are the numbers I track on my own computer, which tell me what percentage of my fiction and poetry I’ve published. I’m not much inclined to get too bogged down looking at spreadsheets (I just use Word documents for tracking, truth be told), but anything that offers me a sense of the overall lay of the land is valuable.

I think there are also some advantages to be reaped from a bit of amateur analysis, too. When I look at patterns of acceptance and rejections, for instance, I can usually see errata–outlier stories that I probably ought to revisit before considering starting the submission engines again. I’m currently revising just such a story, one I find quite beautiful but (to my thinking) falls in the Neither Here Nor There category. It has speculative elements, but it’s not horrific enough to be salable horror, nor is it fantastical enough to be salable fantasy. It’s a subjective assessment, of course, but I figure any evaluation that prompts me to re-imagine the shape of an unpublished story probably arises from an intuition worth pursuing.

And at bottom it does my heart (such as it is) some good to look at a chronicle of rejections that ended in an acceptance. It took me a sizable quantity of saved-up gumption to start submitting my fiction back in the day, and while I’ve landed a couple of pieces in lovely homes on the first go, I think one of the more important writerly lessons we have to learn is pure, dimwitted persistence. I think it’s more than sensible to set a piece of work aside after a dozen rejections, but the creative marketplace really is–really and truly, no foolies–predicated on that elusive quantity called fit.

The fact that a story or poem doesn’t land right away does not mean it’s garbage. It just means a single reader (perhaps a screener, perhaps the editor themself) is not picking up what I happen to be laying down. And when I imagine that uncontrollable facet of the work in those terms, I sleep a little easier at night. I just get back to telling the best stories I know how to tell, and trust in time and persistence to tend to the rest.

Ringing in 2022

(adapted from Simon Wilkes at Unsplash)

Here’s an older poem I wrote and posted on another social media site once upon a time. Not a bad fit when looking at the year ahead.

After midnight grab your coat and shoulder a cold
that tugs at you as though it might venture one last
anxious question, the kind blatantly meant to make
you stay for civility’s sake. But now is not
the time for courtesies or deferrals: we must
watch the depleted year yield up its final fires
in refineries behind us, watch the pale plumes
of votive smoke climb like ivy or some serpent
searching for a skin that fits. As we chase down dawn
let us be grateful then for this, our singular skin,
this spirited skin that carries us from the cold
toward a sunrise we’ll wear like the bruises we bear,
this indelible skin on which we’ll inscribe the lines
of each pledge and confession we’re ready to risk,
this forgiving, exquisite, articulate skin
that feels the new year, finds itself marked but unmarred,
and tells us to rise up and risk it again.