Literary rejection has meant nothing to me. The times I’ve been rejected have not been formative experiences. You might read that and think, what an asshole. Or she has very healthy self-esteem. Or she’s high. But the truth is, rejection of any kind can only mean something to you if you have some hope of acceptance.
Ten years ago, I couldn’t get an interview in my college English department because I didn’t have the right degree. As a writer, I didn’t have the right to teach writing. That hurt. That stung like I imagine getting a rejection from an agent might sting for someone who believes they have the right to have an agent. At the same time, I was realizing my fears about not being able to have a baby. I’d never been careful. If it were going to happen easily, it would have happened by then. I knew this. But it wasn’t until I declared: I want this; I deserve this, that each month, each test, each trial, each humiliation burned in me the way, I imagine, rejection burns in someone who thinks they have a chance at selling a big book might burn. I wouldn’t know.
While I was living that job and family life, I was writing a book. Just one book. Nothing else. No blogging. No short stories. I was writing a book I cared about a lot. But I wasn’t sending anything out into the world and if I had, I would have not only accepted rejection without much of a ripple, I would have expected it.
Then, one day, I finished my book, sent it out to a contest and found a publisher. I didn’t have an agent. I’d hardly made an attempt to look for one. You see, that’s what people do when they believe their work is valuable, they look for agents and then they expect that agent to take their book to publishers and they expect to be accepted and they are disappointed when they aren’t accepted and fulfilled when they are. I mean, this is what I imagine. This is the caricature I’ve created for the writer who isn’t me. The one who sailed into the English department, who got pregnant easily, who knew exactly how valuable her work was when she finished her book.
Rejection has never been the problem for me. Acceptance, however, has.
“Why do I keep experiencing acceptance like some kind of trauma?” I asked my friend.
“Because,” she said, “It’s traumatic to your self-doubt.”She’s smart, I thought. But I didn’t want to think I was that deeply flawed.Keep your expectations low, I believed, and you’ll be OK. Don’t ask for too much, you won’t be disappointed with what you get. In my more spiritual moments I told myself that I learned valuable skills from disappointment.If that self-talk all worked the way it was supposed to, I’d have been pleasantly surprised by my success. But I wasn’t. I was upended, as if everything I thought I knew about myself was completely wrong. I could catalog the fears this inspired and the chronic suffering, the syllogistic nightmares in which my children suffered because I got what I wanted, but I won’t. I’ll just say that literary rejection never had a chance to register on my scales. It would have meant admitting that I wanted to succeed as a writer. It would have meant believing that I deserved that success. It would have meant fighting for it and thinking I was actually in that game.I’m in the game. I have a published novel, an agent, a second book well underway. I’m scared shitless, of course, because this is what I think will happen now: From here on out, I’ll believe I have a chance, I’ll probably fight for what I want, I’ll have hope, and literary rejection will sting like holy hell.
Friday, October 24, 2014
You Are Free To Go by Sarah Yaw (Count Down Day 18: "Acceptance is Traumatic to Your Self-Doubt," Yo!)
I love myself a fiesty author who speaks her mind about literary rejection and everything else. Therefore, I present to you Sarah Yaw, author of You Are Free to Go (Engine Books, 2014). What she has to say will make you re-think your concept of literary acceptance, a refreshing change of the convo around these parts. Also, buy and read her book, please. Here are her thoughts on the subject: