Rejection happens to all freelance writers. Here's what I did with my essay contest submission
freelancing,  Humor,  writing business

My essay contest entry was rejected. This is what I did

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’Tis—or ’twas?—the season for essay contest submission calls, a thing I normally don’t participate in as a freelance writer and busy mom. 

This time, though, I felt an undeniable urge to write an essay and get it out there. For once, I felt good about my chances. Lucky, even. This never, ever happens.

It was an essay contest I had had my eye on for years—idly, because I’d obviously forgotten all about writing down the deadline—and, like many things of this nature, unfortunately a pay-to-play (we’ll discuss my feelings about this and other practices later). With only days left, I needed to come up with the funniest, most current essay under 500 words that I could think of or forgo the opportunity altogether.

So on New Year’s Eve, my husband took the kids outside in freezy-cold weather to set off fireworks. 

This activity is perfectly legal in my neighborhood. Also, it was winter (duh), and this wasn’t our first rodeo, sparks and all.

That still didn’t stop one of their mini-rockets from going haywire and coming this close to hitting his semi-truck way on the other side of the yard. The physics of this phenomenon astounded me, but that, plus, ahem, minus-seventeen degrees and children up past their bedtime, more or less ended the party. Can’t say we don’t know when to fold them.

Speaking of folding, a day later I was putting away laundry in our bedroom when I found the remnants of one of their missiles lying on my sheets. Voilà, there was my essay.

I found a spent firework in my bed, because that's normal.

You can’t make this shit up. (Yes, I did just say “shit.” I have five children. I’m allowed.)

Anyway, I dashed off the thing, and annoyed a longtime friend for feedback, edited ruthlessly, and submitted, and then had to call tech support because of course the essay submission didn’t go right and I’M SORRY that I wasted everyone’s time because it didn’t win anyway. 

That news came, as it typically does, in the form of a devastatingly impersonal email to cap off an already exhausting and demoralizing week. If the judges had feedback, I was told, they’d send it my direction soon.

“Soon,” by my definition, has come and gone with no illuminating editorial eviscerations forthcoming, and meanwhile, I still have a homeless essay that isn’t getting any fresher. This—the unsellable essay—is a common problem for us freelance writers. Most of us are masochists with short attention spans, so we develop these cool habits such as writing down stories that amuse only us, and trying—and failing—to publish them. 

Here, then, I present to you my non-award-winning column, in all its short-lived glory, for your weekend entertainment. You can thank me (or not) in the comments section. You’re welcome.

“It’s All Fun and Games Until Somebody Blows Up the Bed”

Whoever said marriage wasn’t supposed to be all fireworks obviously didn’t start off their new year with a rocket in the bed.

Not the carnal kind, of course. Since I’ve spent most of the past month coughing from an unknown microscopic villain that seems to have morphed into an epic bout of laryngitis, things in the marital department have lapsed a bit. Five kids and a relentless day job will do that to any couple. Still, our bond remains strong enough that despite my wildly unsexy vibe, my spouse has obligingly fed me and even greeted my drooling face with coffee the last few mornings. 

“You weren’t snoring. You were moaning in your sleep,” he informed me this time. Unable to decipher whether I was having a very bad or very good dream that, in either case, didn’t include him, he’d booked it for the couch. 

This being the last day of winter break, however, the to-do list was long for both of us: meals, laundry, trash, firewood, decluttering all the holiday chaos. There was plenty to vacuum and scrub, too, if I felt up to it. (I didn’t, and not just because I despise housework at the best of times.)

I kicked off with laundry, which had piled up thanks to some nitwit on the Internet who had posted that washing on New Year’s Day would kill a relative, and the usual maelstrom of a houseful of children who desperately need to go back to school ensued. Somewhere in the midst of the hunting and gathering and folding and yanking small children off the table and snacking and informing my oldest son that yes, I did expect him to take out the garbage without whining, and that also, yes, there might be a murder if he stomped inside with snowy boots one more time, I walked past our semi-made bed and spotted a miniature rocket—a celebratory leftover—lying on the sheets. 

My husband had taken a few of these, and a few of our children, outside, at a brisk 17 below, to ring in the new year by lighting them off. Their grand expedition had lasted approximately three minutes before they all realized they were quite chilled and that, despite precautions, they’d almost lit our truck on fire. 

This must be my 5-year-old’s doing, I reasoned. Hadn’t I sent him to fetch the vacuum from our room, only to receive a string of excuses? 

I set the offending missile on my spouse’s dresser and headed back upstairs. “Hey, whoever put fireworks in our bed, maybe don’t?”

“Oh, that was me,” my beloved piped up. “I was going to throw it away but didn’t make it that far.” 

Marriage is a blast.

c. Kate Wehr, 2022

Do you have an unsellable essay too? I’d love to read it, and possibly even publish it. (First rights, or reprint rights if you weren’t paid the first time, and you get paid in sympathy. Email me: podcast AT


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