Fail Better: Creations and the Classroom


Over the course of six weeks, eleven brave writers explored creative submitting with me at the University of Arizona Poetry Center. We wrote, revised, chatted, questioned, and spent a class sending out our work. Students also completed assignments related to literary citizenship and accountability; we attempted to disempower (and reimagine) rejection with humor, wildness, and bravery. It was a delight getting to know these individuals and a few were kind enough to let me share their work below.


For the first week, class members were asked to create a catalog of anti-accomplishments (true or invented), inspired by two Chelsia Minnis poems. You can read “-5 (Negative Five)” in full here and the first page of “Anti Vitae,” which tracks a series of writerly failures, here. Both poems appear in Bad Bad, published in 2007 by Fence Books.

Charity Everitt’s piece plays with the idea of “baggage” where failure is concerned. Here’s an excerpt:

Zhuo Li created her own funny and ominous list of (questionable) successes, including the following:

After Class 2, students created their own writing and submission agenda. The model was Henry Miller’s fascinating “Work Schedule 1932-1933,” discussed and excerpted here by Maria Popova. Miller’s plan contained 6 sections (Commandments, Major Program, Minor Program, Painting Program, and Agenda) with around 10 distinct (and extensive) notes a piece.

Ron Pullins’s industrious schedule is made up of thoughtful Commandments, a daily plan, and a primary one. A few highlights:

In Richard Leis’s work schedule, clear and purposeful Commandments include:

He also plots out a daily scheme and includes an excellent beginning poetry reading list.

The following assignment involved drafting an alternative to the standard form rejection letter. Examples of inspiration included letters from the well-missed Alice Blue Review, Google images, letters received by famous writers, and a Submittable guest post.

Heidi MacDonald penned an epic response from the invented My Pants Press that indicts both the submitter and editor. Here’s a taste:

Judy Robbins, a visual artist and writer, crafted a fantastic collage rejection that tells the submitter:

The remainder of outside course time was spent in revision and writing with the intent to submit. During this time, Lisa Martin wrote an ode to a subject she knows well (hint: she’s a librarian). From the poem:

In our last class, we did a prompt: we read poems from the most recent issue of a literary magazine with an open call and used what we observed to create a writing exercise. One student, Bonnie Wehle, created a beautiful poem from this prompt which she submitted to me for the blog, revised, and then withdrew—she had decided to set her sights on a few poetry journals and I wish her the best. I wish us all our best at trying, trying again, failing again, and failing better.


Class Image by Zhuo Li.

Rachel Mindell

Rachel Mindell is Senior Editor for Submittable's Marketing Team. She also writes and teaches poetry. You can find Rachel's creative work here: