Rejection, The Shire, and Farmer Maggot’s Field

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for weeks now, and it’s time I finally do it. The truth is, my rejections are getting to me. They’re not just getting to me, they’ve gotten to me. And I haven’t even received thirty of them yet! (I’m currently at twenty-eight.)

When I started this whole blog, I resolved to share the real experience behind my writing. I wanted to talk about what I was doing, and how it made me feel. I wanted to be able to bring my readers along for the journey, the real journey. Conversely, I think it’s really annoying when authors don’t talk about “the struggle” until it’s over. Because at that point it ceases to be vulnerable. Talking about rejection and failure — amidst your acceptance and success — feels safe.

I want to talk about it now. I want to talk about the fact that it’s surprised me. I want to talk about how it’s already changed me.

Let me address that “surprise” bit. Because I’m not surprised I’ve been rejected twenty-eight times. I anticipated I would be rejected far more than that, and I anticipate that I have a long future of rejections ahead of me.

I thought that rejection not only didn’t hurt me, but that it didn’t affect me.

As you can see from some of my earlier posts on rejection, getting turned down didn’t really cause me emotional pain, either. When I get a rejection in my email, I don’t have a hot flash or a headache or a stomach ache in the same way that I might physically react to an altercation or a confrontation in real life. And I thought that was what people were talking about when they meant rejection “hurt.” I thought it meant a “gut-punch.” Since I didn’t experience that, I thought that rejection not only didn’t hurt me, but that it didn’t affect me.

And that’s where I was wrong.

Many people look back on their childhood and recognize places where their ignorance really was bliss, where they didn’t know how good they had it. And that naiveté is part of what makes it so good. We’re not preoccupied with the fear of loss. As George Bernard Shaw put it, “Youth is wasted on the young.” I would like to postulate that there is a similar experience for writers.

I’ve managed to believe, unflaggingly, in my work for ten years. Now, I’ve improved, vastly, and I’ve looked back at some of my earlier confidence and recognized that it wasn’t — shall we say — well-deserved. I thought I had an objective view of my own work, because even when I didn’t know how to make it better, I could still determine when it wasn’t ready. When it wasn’t professional. I figured that one day I would come to a place where it did feel professional. Where it felt ready. I feel that now. I feel like my work is ready.

I thought I could get hundreds of rejections and still feel like my work is…good. And I don’t. And that is what completely blindsided me.

And while I expected rejection, I subconsciously also expected to still feel that way despite rejection. I thought I could get hundreds of rejections and still feel like my work is ready. That it’s professional. That it’s good. And I don’t. And that is what completely blindsided me.

This last week I applied for admission into Clarion West and Odyssey writing workshops. They’re very exclusive, and they’re very prestigious. If I’d applied to them a year ago, I would have accepted a “no” just as freely as a “yes,” because it would have felt like a reflection on the judges’ personal taste, not the quality of my work. If I had applied a year ago, I would have felt totally confident submitting my work. I would have felt secure, knowing that the sample writing I sent was as excellent as I could make it. A year ago, I believed in myself. Or, in my writing. They’re hard to differentiate.

Putting together my book of rejections has been kind of fun, inspiring even. But it caught up with me when I applied to these workshops. I had hoped to get one story selected for publication before I applied, just so I could feel a little bit validated that what I was sending in was professional. Well, none of my work has been picked up by a publisher. So I had to send in my sample without any validation at all. I was left to wonder if it really was good. I still applied, because that’s how I roll. But…

My view of my own work had changed. I didn’t feel confident. I felt vulnerable. Nervous. Small. I’d naively crossed over a threshold into an entirely new world. A scary world. Where none of my old talents and old ways of thinking will help me. And I can’t go back.

And I miss it. I miss The Shire, and I’m not even close to Mordor yet.

And I keep thinking of the last ten years of blissful writing, and all the years before it, that “normal world” that Joseph Campbell talks about in his Hero’s Journey. It’s The Shire of a writer’s emotional journey. And I miss it. I miss The Shire, and I’m not even close to Mordor yet. I’m like, barely past Farmer Maggot’s field.

And that’s embarrassing to me, that it would take so few rejections to affect me. And that embarrassment is what’s prevented me from writing this post earlier. I dread the idea of my friends and family consoling me. Because I know that all of this is normal. I know that rejection and failure are just one side of a coin that will get flipped over and over and over throughout my career, and that there will come a day when that coin lands with “success and acceptance” face up. Intellectually, I already know what to tell myself. Emotionally, I can’t help but feel this way. This loss.

And it’s okay. I’m choosing to stay here for a moment and reflect on that loss. To think of The Shire, and how it felt to be there. To think that I had a “writer’s childhood” that I enjoyed for so long before having to “grow up.”

And I’m choosing to share it with you. Because it’s part of the story.

Thank you, really, thank you. For coming on this journey with me.