The Year of 100 Rejections: My Annual Learning Project

Less than two years ago, I published my first blog post.

Before then, I’d never published anything. The only writing I’d done was in my private journals.

I didn’t know if anyone would read my work. I didn’t know if I’d be any good at it. But I took the risk anyway and just did it.

At first, my worries were right. Nobody read my work. And I wasn’t any good. But because I stayed consistent, 2017 ended up as one of the best, and most creatively fulfilling, years of my life. I quit my freelancing work, started writing full time, and now get to share ideas with smart people all over the world.

This year, I’d like to take another risk: I want to learn how to write fiction.

I loved stories — especially speculative fiction — growing up. For about a year now, I’ve had this itch to try short story writing. And, if I want to, I know it’s gonna involve two things: (1) a lot of practice and (2) a lot of failure.

To help me get through this rough, “learning” phase, I’m launching a learning project.

Enter 100 Rejections.

100 Rejections

In 2018, I want to get rejected 100 times.

Ray Bradbury, most famous now for his novel Fahrenheit 451, once advised that writers write one short story a week. Why one story a week? Because “It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.”

Practically, this means I want to write a short story every week (52 in a year) and submit them to multiple publications. Assuming each story gets rejected twice, that’s 104 rejections in a year.

I set up this project this way for a few reasons:

  • Not outcome-based. All I need to do to get a rejection is to submit a story. I can’t guarantee whether or not I’ll get published, but I can guarantee that I write and submit.
  • Garbage is okay. The biggest mental block, for me and many others, is the fear of failure. By setting the goal, from the beginning, to fail and fail a lot, I’m less afraid of doing the work.
  • Fast feedback cycles. Learning happens best with short cycles of trial-and-error. Short stories can be written and read quickly, which means I get a lot more practice than I would if I wrote, say, novels.

My hope is that, after a year of writing bad stories, I’ll grow into a much better — and consistent — writer.

My other hope is that this project will serve as a guide and inspiration for others with similar learning projects. Many people complain that they are too old or too busy to learn something new.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

The System

Big goals never work. At least, not on their own.

In my weekly newsletter, I wrote:

It’s not that most people fail their New Year’s Resolutions. It’s that most people fail their resolutions, period. Resolutions, like goals, only tell us where we want to go, not how to get there. For that, you need a system.”

So what system do I plan to use?

The most important thing for these kinds of goals is psychology. As long as I keep writing, finishing and submitting stories, I’ll get to my goal.

So, my current plan is made up of daily habits and weekly goals:

  • Write 1000 words a day.
  • Actively read professional short stories.
  • Critique amateur short stories.
  • Join several writing communities and attend regular meetings.

Done well, this should guarantee that I learn quickly by getting feedback from a number of sources (comparing my stories to pro stories, learning how bad stories suck, critical feedback from others on my “blind spots,” etc.).

What about time?

Ideally, I should be able to get this done on ~1–2 hours a day. This lets me deal with my other obligations (this blog, business stuff, translation, family, etc.) without suffering from overwhelm.

That’s all for now. Time to get writing.

I plan to update this page periodically throughout the year (as I refine the method) and supplement with monthly progress reports. To stay tuned, or to laugh at me getting rejected, subscribe to The Open Circle.