The first story of mine that was accepted for publication since I returned to writing after a ten-year hiatus was a micro-fiction piece inspired by the time, my then three-year-old son, shit on the bathroom floor. I had to look back at my notes, but before that story was accepted, I had had 28 straight rejections of serious poetry, and dramatic prose, and although I wouldn’t say I was dejected, I discovered something really important: not to take myself too seriously.
I used to look at the third-person bios of other writers, published writers who had somehow cracked the code to acceptance, to publication, and I regarded them with such envy. I would see something like the following:
“So-and-so got their MFA in Creative Writing from this fancy program and their first book was published by this fancy press last year and they have had other work in this publication, this publication, and this publication, among many others. You can find so-and-so on Twitter or on their fancy website.”
Among many others. I couldn’t imagine not just comparing myself to them, but catching up, or feeling worthy to carry myself next to writers who had published so much they had to abbreviate their bio or send readers to their website that chronicled their plethora of published work. And it didn’t matter if I knew the publication; to me, it just mattered that those writers had been validated and I had not.
So, there I was, in my apartment bathroom with my three-year-old who had a fecal explosion in his pull-up. It was thick like clay; a chunk slapped the cheap linoleum floor as I tried to free my son from his mess. I remember thinking, even then, “this is endearing. I should write about this,” especially as my son wrapped his arms around me, freshly cleaned at this point, and told me “it’s just a little bit, Dad. It’s okay!” What a great line!
My son was right. It was okay. And I got over myself and cleaned, sanitized, changed, and eventually wrote a story I never thought I would.
When the acceptance came through, I was elated and a bit confused. I had accomplished a goal that had seemed so unattainable—I could include a publication in my third-person bio—but then I thought about the content. I wrongly questioned: “shit on the floor made me a writer?” But the reality was that I had always been a writer.
The writing community is an embracing one and in spite of the common experience of rejection, a feeling that can easily discourage and frustrate, that universality actually brings the community closer together. Lit mag editors are people, too, and I like to believe that most, if not all of them, don’t want to reject submissions, nor do they want the sting of rejection. Be human, be real, and write something that surprises you. Or, if anything, write about shit because who hasn’t dealt with that before?