No art ever came out of not risking your neck.— Eudora Welty
Well, I got a rejection email today! Before I get mired in disappointment, I’m going to write this out of my system. I think processing emotions is why so many people write, it’s a way to release feelings through a weird combination of contemplation and openness. I’d been prepared for this day and is why I shared my submission process on Facebook. I’m sure more than one person thought, “how self-absorbed…who cares about your writing?…how narcissistic can you be?!” (Wow, that was negative, huh?) I knew there was a high probability I’d get rejected and I thought sharing the process would keep me honest and stop me from spiraling into crippling disappointment. It’s only been a few hours, but so far my plan is working, I think?
I spent about 20 hours over six weeks writing my submissions to apply for this workshop and it was more effort than I’ve ever made in the past. It was a lot of work but I’m going to fight hard not to lose motivation over a small setback. In the past, I’ve been very lousy at handling rejection. At the slightest mistake, I’d crumble into self-pitying despair, roll into a ball on a sofa and watch Golden Girls for as long as possible. Then, I’d wake up with manic energy, drink heavily and forge a path of self-destruction. This was how I coped with failure for many years. It would have never occurred to me to sit down, write and bang out words in the face of defeat! Nope, I’d just run away like a whimpering child and look for anything to divert my attention from the crushing sense of inadequacy. I’d never sit with my disappointment or try to feel it. I see now that there is an energy that comes with sadness, it’s like an ember hidden deep within a fire pit waiting to be fanned. So, this is progress, right here, right now, I’m back at the keyboard!
I’m not sure why I have this deep and sort of delusional need to write, but I do. Writing is a part of my identity, real or not, and it brings me happiness to play with words and ideas. And before anybody tries to calm me down, I do think it’s a delusion to aspire to an artistic life. To write is a selfish act, it takes time away from my family and diverts focus from my career. It’s also a bit entitled to make time to write and have space to follow a passion. So in the grand scheme of things, I realize not being accepted to a writer’s workshop is not the end of the world. I will continue to write, I have all the tools I need. I have my mind, my ideas, a computer, even paper and pen, a stolen half hour here and there, and all of Saturday morning to type away adding more to my book or writing this blog. Nothing can take this away from me except for the evil forces of self-doubt and fear. (Stay Back)!!
And I’ve run away from writing for too many years to know that ignoring this drive also leaves me unfulfilled, no matter how well I’m doing in my personal and professional life. At times, it does feel ridiculous to put so much energy into something that doesn’t have a clear external reward. Writing is scary because so many of us will never see the light of day as authors, but I sit here and shrug it off because I don’t feel I have much choice. Trust me, my first thought when I got the email today was, why am I doing this? I just wasted so much time! What is the purpose? Ahh, and there it is, the key. We all strive to have a purpose. I know it’s so over-used to say this, but once you tap into what gives you intrinsic fulfillment, it’s very hard to turn back. You can’t just say, forget it! I don’t want to keep doing something that I enjoy because it’s too hard, it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t make any money, and I won’t achieve anything. Unless self-doubt and fear are ruling your head, then these thoughts will win. Begone fear! Begone self-doubt!
So, here is an excerpt from the short, non-personalized rejection email I received today,
This year we received a large number of applications and unfortunately are unable to offer you a seat in either of your workshop choices. You should not view this as a reflection on the quality of your work, but more a space/capacity issue…we have a finite number of seats and have an application ratio of 5:1.
Anyhow, I disagree, this was a reflection of the quality of my work because my acceptance was based on my submission and if it was good I’d have a seat, duh! Yesterday, in anticipation, I re-read my submission and I thought it was horrible. Now, I know most writers think their drafts are crap, so this could be a sign that I’m onto something genius. But my prose submission needed a lot more polish and I made a big error and didn’t reach out for help with proofreading my prose. I realized this mistake a few days before the submission was due because a dear friend was editing my essay questions and her strong red pen and direction helped me make enormous improvements in my personal statement. I enjoyed the editing process, she helped me clarify ambiguity and highlight my passion for the workshop. It struck me that I kept my prose piece close to my chest. Obviously, I still have some fear of feedback that I need to get over. I should have asked for input and direction from other writers. Also, I realize I need to practice and work on my writing chops! I make grammatical mistakes, write tired metaphors, use the dreadful passive voice and struggle with comma usage. I think I have a strong narrative voice and maybe some good ideas. But I worry that my plot is derivative and boring, and my characters are unlikeable, and I have no structure or idea how to end my story! I have so much to learn about the craft. I must continue practicing and sharing my work. Luckily, I have a long list of writer’s groups, conferences, workshops, meetups, open-mic readings and writer friends all within my reach. Honestly, this is why I moved to the Bay Area nearly 18 years ago, with the hope to build a literary life. Although it’s not exactly fully-formed, I can see a narrow path widen to an open field of creativity.
One last note, it’s notable that there was a 5:1 ratio of applicants to space in this writer’s workshop that is aimed at giving writers of color opportunity to share ideas. The literary world is still very white and elitist, and although change is happening, there is a long way to go! I had thought I had the right amount of passion and skill to attend this workshop, but right now it’s not in my cards. I will submit again next year, and I will spend more time on my prose submission. But in the meantime, I hope to see more opportunities and advancement for writers that are not from the publishing establishment, or that don’t come from elite MFA programs. Now more than ever writers of color and minority voices need to share our stories, to humanize and reclaim narratives. Admittedly, I do feel disappointed about not being accepted to the workshop, but all I can do is write. Maybe I will also eat some cake and have a cup of tea, or climb a tree, or go on a hike, or visit a stream— you know, civilized wound licking