happy pub day to Hinge / tl;dr: this book was rejected over 100 times, I persisted because people I trusted believed in me and my work

Hinge on my coffee table with the toes of my boots

I started this post as a thread on Twitter, but it grew ridiculously long, so I decided to post it here instead.

Tl;dr: this manuscript was rejected over 100 times; I could not have done it without friends and fellow poets who believed in my work when I did / could not.

I began writing this book (although didn’t know then that I was writing a book) when my kids were very young—not even all in school yet. They are now 19, 17, and a few days shy of 15.

I did not conceive of myself as a poet then, just as someone who wrote poems. I was a middle-aged mom of three who was trying to write in small scraps of time (still am, tbh). I wanted to write good poems, but I never imagined that I could be a poet.

I had no degree in writing (just econ and public policy), no writing friends, and virtually no support from my then-husband. I had a dear friend named Mary (still do). She encouraged my writing.

Eventually, I took a class or two at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. That’s how I found my first writing group / friends. We met on Monday nights in the cafeteria at a small college in St. Paul. Our teacher was Tom Ruud. My first debt is to Tom—the first to call me a poet. Eventually, that group disbanded but Tom delivered me safely into the arms of Deborah Keenan’s Monday morning group. We met at Con Amore on Grand Ave. in St. Paul (now closed).

Deborah taught me how to *read* like a poet. She said out loud that she imagined me publishing poems, essays, & books one day. I still couldn’t imagine it, but I liked the sound of it. (She, a mother of four, also understood when I occasionally had to pay the last 5 bucks of the weekly tuition with change I found in the couch cushions. True story. 🤷‍♀️)

All this time, I was waking up at 4:30AM every day—the only time I had to write before the kids woke up at six. I woke, went down to my “desk” (one end of the kitchen table) and read, and wrote as a means of self-preservation. I published a few poems here and there.

At some point I decided: I want to be a poet. I want to write a book. I had no one, though, to share that dream with—and it felt too fragile a dream to tend by myself. I told Mary this. She said, “I’ll dream it with you.”

Also all this time, I was really sick with what I now know is lupus. Attending to the usual tasks of mothering and house-holding was often impossible for me and, when possible, took every ounce of my strength. I relied on friends, neighbors, and especially family for help with childcare, laundry, groceries, meals, and sometimes even opening little jars of baby food and my many prescription bottles (thank you, Kari on Highland Parkway who bore the brunt of this last task).

My mom, especially, carried us. She practically lived with us, coming from Michigan to St. Paul for weeks / months at a time to help me, going home for a bit, then coming back. For years.

Anyway, the dedication:

eternal gratitude

Around this time, the poetry internet came into being. Through it, I found lit mags, books, articles, etc. I made my first poetry internet (now IRL) friends. They encouraged me. They believed.

I was still getting up early to read and write, publishing here and there in small journals. At one point, I took an online class through Stanford with Jennifer Richter. I told myself: She has no reason to encourage in me unless my poems warrant it. She encouraged me. I thought, If Jen thinks I can do this, maybe I can do this!? I started putting a manuscript together. She was the first to read it, and she said: Yes, keep going. She believed.

I didn’t tell her this at the time, but I had read (x 100) her first book, Threshold. It had won the Crab Orchard Open. So many times, I’d held that book in my hands and thought: If I could write a book this good, if I could publish it at a place like this—that would be a dream come true.

I actively worked on shaping the manuscript for ~4 years before sending it out. During this time, I kept reading and writing. I was publishing more and in “better” journals. Despite resistance from my then-spouse, I started a low-res MFA. There, I made two more crucial poet-friends. There, the program director believed in my poems, read the ms., and gave me some crucial advice for shaping it. Alongside the work of my MFA, I made final revisions to the ms. that would be Hinge. I started sending it out.

It was rejected over 100 times.

But people who believed in me, who believed in the ms. said: keep sending, keep sending. So I did. It was getting semi-finalist and finalist designations—this also helped me think I should keep sending.

Many times, rejection after rejection, I despaired, and my poet-friends would say: “I believe I will one day hold your book in my hands. I’m saving a space on my shelf.” They believed when I could not.

Meanwhile, I left my marriage, the kids grew taller than me, and I finished my MFA, which meant I had a second manuscript. I started sending it out. That was If the House.

When I got the call that If the House had won the Brittingham, I decided once and for all: Hinge was staying in the drawer. It was the book I learned on. I could and would let it go.

When I was withdrawing it from all the first book contests I’d entered, I noticed that I’d sent it to two open competitions. I thought, What the heck, I paid the fee, and left it at those two places, feeling sure it would not win. Feeling sure its destiny was the drawer forever.

Then one day, on my drive home from work, I got a call from someone in Carbondale, Illinois. I wondered who on earth would be calling me from Carbondale. Anyway, I couldn’t answer right then, so I let it go to voicemail.

The afternoon / evening picking up and dropping off of children ensued. At some point, I had a minute to listen to the voicemail the person from Carbondale had left. It was Jon Tribble. He wanted to talk to me about the ms. I’d submitted to the Crab Orchard Open. I thought: no way.

I called back. Allison answered. Jon had stepped out. He would call back soon. I sat in the library parking lot, no doubt waiting for one child or another to come out, and waiting for Jon’s call. He called. Hinge had won the Crab Orchard Open, along with Luisa Igloria’s Maps for Migrants and Ghosts.

I remembered holding Jen’s Threshold in my hands, thinking about my dream. Which had just come true, practically to the letter.

Friends, what I want to say is: I could *never* have imagined this at the time it was set in motion.

I want to say: you don’t need an MFA to be a poet. Hinge was at least 95% finished before I started my MFA program.

I want to say: Just because you can’t imagine a dream coming true doesn’t mean it can’t come true.

I want to say: surround yourself with people who will dream with you, who believe in you. I could never have persisted without people who believed in me and my poems even when I didn’t or couldn’t.

I will now go mop myself up and reapply mascara. /fin.

12 thoughts on “happy pub day to Hinge / tl;dr: this book was rejected over 100 times, I persisted because people I trusted believed in me and my work

  1. Admittedly, I will have to mop up a a bit after reading this post. As a mother of 3 (the last one just left for Uni) I could not do so well what you have done, save writing in my kids progress journals every two months. (The mothering skills progressed, but my writing chops have evolved slower.) I have returned to school part time, with the goal of an MA in English in my near-future, and have written, “Do your own work FIRST” at my work table. I am so thrilled for you at your determination, your success, and your community of support. Congratulations!

    • Alex, thanks so much for reading. If there’s anything I believe, it’s that there are as many ways to be a writer as there are writers—so I hope you’ll embrace what works for you and your life. There have definitely been times in mine when I’m doing a heck of a lot more mothering than writing. But I am very happy to know you found something of value in the story of how Hinge came into being, and I wish you the very best on your own path!

      • Thanks, Molly. I will continue to read your blog from here in Eastern Canada, as I continue with my own writing. Your work is like an arrow that hits a perfect centre target. So invigorating to read.

  2. Molly, good going–and much deserved. “Nevertheless, she persisted” and all that. I’ve been following your blog for years now–appreciating the challenges of writing while raising children, keeping house, dealing with chronic illness (some of which: same here). And appreciating the dedication, the close reading of other writers, the love of the poem as a thing in itself, the tenderness and fierceness of critical revision.

    Go you. And blessings be upon the memory of the late Jon Tribble.

  3. You have always been an inspiration since I stumbled on this blog some years ago. Im just a stay at home mom- I have 5 kids ages 3 months to 9 years old- but I’m working hard on my writing every day

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