Between what we long for and what we have there is generally a gap. This place is where our discontentment thrives.
I long for a traditional publishing contract. I’ve been querying, on and off, on a spiritual memoir for almost three years. A ton of rejection comes with this process. I knew it when I started. Getting a full manuscript request from an agent early on was exciting, only to be told she liked it but didn’t think she could sell it.
Two story contests came across my social media feed this summer that I decided to enter. I wrote the two best stories I possibly could and sent them off with high hopes. Neither one made the shortlist, bringing back those ugly doubts and fears, whispering all day and night to my spirit: “maybe you’re just not a good enough writer.”
It’s dark and lonely in this rejection place. My psyche feels wounded and lost, like a dark cave where you forever hear water dripping, a sound that will eventually drive you mad.
I handed in my first flash fiction story in my creative writing university class. I was really happy with it, once again telling myself that I couldn’t do any better at this stage of my life as a writer. I got glowing feedback on it but didn’t achieve the perfect grade I wanted. Once again, that voice in the cave was back, taunting me with my own worthlessness.
I do know that writing is subjective. Criticism is meant to improve our skills and we shouldn’t take it personally. Sometimes it’s easy to take a bird’s-eye view of the whole process and console yourself with the fact that at least you are in the game. I’m putting myself out there and trying for something, and the price is the inevitable rejection.
Time heals and takes away the sting. I will keep going, but today I will allow myself to wallow a little in the hurt and frustration. The real problem, as always, is my own damn expectations. I start to write a happy ending to a particular submission story, when I have no actual control over the tastes of the judges or teachers or agents or publishers.
I can only do what I can do, then I must let go of the outcome. Sounds easy, but it’s the hardest part of the whole process. When will I learn this? When will I finally improve at it?
Rejection will always hurt. But it doesn’t have to stop us or define us. Bumps in the road will never stop cropping up. It helps to remember that the people who matter in my life will love me no matter what happens.
The key to resilience is picking up my pen and writing another word, another sentence, another character. I have to believe that not quitting is what will get me to where I want to go, even if it takes way longer than I want it to.