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Flourish: An Electronic Newsletter for Scholarly Writers May-June 2009

vol. 5, no. 5

Last year, a graduate student in the humanities asked if he could strategize with me about how to respond to revise and resubmit notices. When we met over coffee, he surprised me by pulling out not one, not two, but four revise and resubmit requests from journals!

It turned out that these multiple positive notices were the result of five years of awe-inspiring labor on his part. He had not only written six different articles over his graduate career (for classes or his dissertation) but had also submitted them a total of seventeen times to peer-reviewed journals. Seventeen times! That means he had persevered despite eleven rejections. One of the articles had been rejected by five different journals. Another had been rejected by three.

But every time an article of his was rejected, the graduate student revised the article (if the editor passed along any reviewers’ comments) and sent it right back out. The fruit of his labor was that he had published two articles (one at the first journal to which he submitted, the other at the second), and now had four articles on the verge of being accepted for publication (including the one that had been rejected by five other journals). Clearly, he had learned much doing eleven revisions on six articles, because when I talked to him recently, the last article he had submitted was accepted at the first journal to which he sent it—the leading journal in a number of disciplines.

When I expressed my admiration for his ability to persevere despite so much rejection, he confessed that his classmates thought he was crazy and he suspected that his persistence had partly to do with feelings of insecurity about his educational background. What kept him going was not confidence, he insisted, but the lack of it. That and a real desire to learn what others thought of his ideas and how to be a better writer. He was grateful to the reviewers and editors who had taken the time to review his work, even those who had profound reservations about his writing style and arguments. He called it a second graduate degree. What a wonderful attitude!

So, if you get one or ten rejections, remember the perseverance of this graduate student. He is neither crazy nor superhuman; he’s just doing what it takes to get published. Really! It’s a myth that writing is easy or that it comes naturally to those who are good at it. Persistence and hard work, not untutored brilliance or divine intervention, is what gets you into the pages of journals.

So, stop reading your email, open up that chapter or article file, and have a good writing summer!

Journal Article Publishing Workshop

There is still some space in my June 6 writing workshop in Los Angeles through UCLA Extension. Anyone can enroll in "Publishing Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles." To register, go to the course website at UCLA Extension.

News from the Editor

I can’t believe my first year at Princeton is over. Classes are done, grades are in, commencement is tomorrow, and that’s the end. All in all, it’s been a wonderful year! I also enjoyed going to my college reunion at Mount Holyoke College last weekend and giving a talk about the literature of transnational childhoods for the Princeton Alumni Association in Amherst, MA.