The Worst Rejection

Recently, I was talking to some students from Sarah Selecky Writing School about my MFA, and that reminded of how I’d failed to get in the first time I applied. Of all the many, many rejections I’ve had in my writing life, that one was the most devastating.

I think it hit so hard because I’d somehow decided that the MFA was the litmus test of whether or not I was really a writer. I can hardly be faulted for thinking this, because it seemed like everyone else thought the same thing.

After I got in, I remember a friend of mine, who’d heard me talk about writing for about five years or so, suddenly asking if she could read my work. Apparently, the fact that I wrote didn’t make her radar until an instition had annointed me as a writer. I said sure, and didn’t send her anything. Neither of us ever mentioned it again, but I know at least one person who won’t get a mention in my acknowledgements.

Likewise, it was only after I started the MFA that my parents suddenly had a lot of writing advice for me. “You need to learn about storytelling,” said my mom. “You should listen to the woman who does my head massage in India.”

I’m not sure their taking my writing seriously was a bonus.

Still, it was odd that they didn’t pick up on the idea that I might want to be a writer sooner. I read so much and so often as a kid that my mom would actually threaten to burn them if I didn’t stop reading to clean my room. I was Editor-in-Chief, twice, of my high school literary magazine. I did a concurrent undergraduate degrees in Computer Science and in Technical Writing. “Why are you bother with writing?” my dad asked. “Because I want to,” I would answer. Years later, I took finally took creative writing classes.

After I was rejected, I stopped writing. My rejection email contained a very kind note about applying again, and how rejection is simply a part of the writing life, but such good advice made no impression on me. I just stopped. It felt like the dream was dead.

I knew perfectly well that an MFA was not necessary to be a writer, but I had pinned so much on this one acceptance. I had told everyone that I was applying. I made a big deal to everyone about how I wasn’t sure if I was going to have time for things next year, because I was going to be doing my MFA. It was not only other people taking me seriously as a writer, but also me taking me seriously as a writer. And so the rejection became a giant “Haha!” (Cue Nelson from the Simpson’s.)

I don’t have a beautiful story about how I found it in me to try again. I made a last-minute decision to take a writing class. I wrote again. Some of what I wrote was fun to write, and I liked it. That was enough to flip the switch; I was determined to write a bunch of new stuff and apply again. “Reject me? I’ll show you!”

That year, I got in.


One Day

One day, I will not be afraid. One day, I’ll be successful. One day, I will write a beautifully crafted novel in three drafts. One day, I’ll be able to justify the time I spend on this endeavour in a way that no one can question, including me. One day, it will not take so much time. One day, I will have a reason for writing that doesn’t sound pretentious or selfish or like something other people would laugh at. One day, I will not feel like a fraud. One day, I will believe I am a writer all the time. One day, I will not be surprised and puzzled when other people think of me as a writer. One day, I will sit at my desk to write and not be tempted to check Facebook first. One day, I won’t have doubts. One day, I’ll have more publication credits than my nemesis. One day, I won’t feel like I am wasting time. One day, I won’t feel like the opportunities have passed me by. One day, this won’t take so long.

One day, this will be easy.

That’s what it all comes down to, really. Why isn’t this easy? And then convincing yourself that if you make the next milestone, you get this one story published, you finish the draft, you get an agent, you win a contest–if you can do that, afterwards, it will be easy. That particular one thing is the only thing stopping you.

But eventually, you get past the one thing, and it’s still not easy. It’s still hard. Not coal mining-hard, but harder than you can admit to most people. You still have no idea what you’re doing or if any of it is working. You still have no idea if this is worthwhile in any concrete sense. You use up huge reserves on this giant act of faith that is just doing it, and then afterwards you wonder why it’s always so daunting to start.

This is your hobby, your dream, your profession, that one thing that satisfies your soul and makes you feel like your you-est self, and you keep shying away from doing it, and then kicking yourself, because it’s not easy. You chastise yourself for complaining that it’s not easy since it’s not coal mining.

But you know it’s not easy. You talk with other writers about how it’s not easy. Even for the ones that make it look easy. But somehow you think it should be different for you. That it’s supposed to be easy for you, and you get worn down because it isn’t easy.

You scorn the people who think it’s easy–they aren’t writers–and yet, you wish it wasn’t so damn hard all the time. Or worse, not all the time. Because those days when it goes well trick you into thinking that maybe on all those other days you did something wrong.

You start thinking, one day, I can quit. I will do this one thing, and I am done. Forever. I would like to do easier things. At least when I clean the floor, at the end of the day I will have a clean floor.

In your heart of hearts, you know you can quit right now. You don’t have to wait for one day. One day can be today. And maybe you do, for a little while.

And then one day you think, I had something. Maybe it could really be something. One day.