Writing Well and Accepting Rejection
I sit with a large glass of wine in one hand staring blankly at this screen wondering how all the humans I have come to admire have written all the words I have come to love so dearly. How do they organize themselves? How do they capture all of the rogue thoughts and ideas that flit through the mind in the dark of night? How to toss it together and make something readable? Something edible.
I don’t remember a time when writing was not life. I never wanted a ballerina’s or an astronaut’s job. One, because even at the ripe age of eight years old I knew that my stout physique and intense love affair with cheese and crackers would not bode well in the ballerina lifestyle. And two, because my mom told me that due to only being born with one kidney I could never travel to space. This, I won’t lie, was a letdown. Until then I thought that living on Mars once it was colonised might be a good backup if this writing thing didn’t work out. My adolescence was laden with hindrances due to being a member of the one kidney clan.
Growing up, contact sports were never even mentioned in my household. Once, when finding my friends and me engaging in an impromptu game of tackle football (this was obviously just a cheap ploy to jump on the backs of boys), my mother dragged me off the field muttering loudly about how I was lucky I hadn’t ruptured my kidney playing such a fool-hardy game. I missed out on sliding down snow-covered hills on a crazy carpet lest I slightly angle my body to the right and somehow damage, you guessed it, my solitary kidney. Drinking water was a fix-all for nearly anything that ailed you, and a shaker of salt at the dinner table? Well, that was worse than a frog popping out of your soup bowl and belting out “Hello! Ma Baby” in a ragtime tune, as it was said to attack the renal system. That is the salt, not the frog. I don’t even know if that’s true or not but to this day I am obsessive about checking the salt content of processed foods. It was a strange and sorrowing time. As a result, tobogganing scares the bejesus out of me and I am the least competitive person on the face of the planet. It did, however, give me time to hone in on my love of the written word and for that, I will always be grateful to Mom. If she is one thing (other than sort of compulsive about my kidney), it is my most confident fan in the tiny writing world in which I live.
I guess this is why writing has always been my fail-safe. Because it was, quite literally, the safest thing for me to do at that time in my life. Like, really safe. From the time I was in grade seven and wrote a short story called, “King Palalamento’s Daughter” (a cheap knock-off of the Aladdin movies) I found myself obsessed with the craft.
Wait, what? People—and when I say people I mean the coolest seventh-grade teacher anyone has ever known—Mr. Krocker, swooned over my sweet literary skills and laughed at my jokes? Yes please! If you listen to one thing I say, hear this: The best thing you can do for an impressionable 13-year-old girl is to laugh at all her jokes. Girls who grow up knowing they are funny are the most powerful beings on the face of this planet.
I shouldn’t say that writing is the safest sport out there though. I guess I won’t find myself injuring any kidneys while engaging in my craft but the emotional stress that comes with writing is vast and troubling at times. I have never been more self-conscious than when someone is telling me I shouldn’t write. This says a lot because I’m twenty pounds overweight and usually sporting a bad case of adult acne. Writing has become such an ingrained part of me that I will physically get anxious when told that I’m not good enough.
This brings on a myriad of issues when I am on one of my submission quests.
Ugh you guys, the submission quests! No, no this is not some weird BDSM thing, I am talking about submitting short stories to publishing magazines. I’ve had a bit of writing published in non-fiction platforms. I wrote a column for a local newspaper for a while. Stories about being a mom and the crazy misadventures that come along with it. I’ve had mediocre success in publishing funny antidotes on various sites peppered throughout the blogging world. But as any writer will tell you, THAT JUST ISN’T ENOUGH! When you are a person, who idolizes writers like Stephen King and Margaret Atwood writing non-fiction funnies just doesn’t cut it. I want to seamlessly sew together a tale, something that the reader cannot put down. I want to exercise my imagination and spit it all out into something tangible and entertaining. Sometimes I yearn for fiction.
Alas, fiction is a tough sell. Time after time I will craft something that I think is magnificent only to be shut down by the same two sentences, ‘Upon careful consideration we do not feel that (insert short story title) is a good fit for us. We wish you good luck in your future endeavors.’ This is a real gut punch because they don’t even give me a personalized answer. I don’t blame them of course, they are rejecting hundreds of poor saps like me every week. They’d get carpal tunnel if having to write that many rejection emails daily. But still, it burns in that small place where my raging ego lives. It diminishes me to know that I am not good enough to write fiction. Which makes me wonder if I am good enough to write anything?
Do you see what I've just done there? If you go back and reread, you will see that I swiftly went from positive, optimistic human to gloomy self-despairing reject writer by directly bringing to mind all the many, many, many, many, many…many rejections I’ve gotten over the years. I realize that I cannot dwell over these failures so I just push them down to that place where I can no longer feel the pain and instead slap a smile of my face and carry on. I’ll deal with the boil-over another day.
Because that’s healthy, right?
Ah, the age-old dilemma of the tortured artist. Come on you guys, don’t act so superior. We’ve all been there.
Creativity is too important not to labour over. Toil is necessary to achieve the desired effect. Readers, viewer and makers alike can taste the hardships put into a piece. That is what makes our art special. That is what makes it real.
So try not to worry over rejection. It is only part of the ongoing process of art.
I asked how all of the words are written, and I think the answer is they are not. The words are picked and peppered throughout a script. They are laboured over, being put down then just as quickly snatched away. Erased into oblivion. The words are loved and cherished and just as promptly scolded for4 not being perfect, not being seamless.
And still, the stories I read and see as flawless are perhaps only mediocre to their makers. Art can be a strange and sorrowing thing, but it is also what feeds our souls.