As writers, we have to become professionals at accepting rejection because this is a business where hearing “no” in various polite forms becomes part of writing life.
But despite the harrowing assurances of our families and that MFA hanging on the wall, many of us come to a moment where it feels like all avenues have been exhausted, all agents have said no, all literary magazines think your writing stinks (or at least, that feels implied) and that stack of finished computer files will all be for naught. I call this moment, “Literary Reckoning.”
I met my own Literary Reckoning this week. I don’t have a lot of literary work published, and although I’m always excited for my fellow alumni and writers—we are a tribe after all—I also can’t help but be frustrated at my own perceived lack of success. Usually, it rolls of my back and into my work. But this week, after some serious interest from an agent, I was shot down (ever so nicely), found out I didn’t shortlist on some major literary contests I entered…the usual. Nothing a normal week doesn’t bring, however, it was compounded by the death of a good friend and the loss of a grandparent. 2016 isn’t exactly starting off with a bang.
I allowed this series of sadnesses to get the better of me, to twist my mind into thinking I should give up, because surely there are better writers, more evocative describers, most dedicated social media platformists. My solution, of course, was to Tweet to the world, asking for a sign I was in the right line of work. Later that day, I had further interest in more of my work, was hired to write three new articles and received an email to edit a really great manuscript. If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is.
But looking back on the week and the self pity I allowed to swallow me, I forgot WHY it is that I write. I don’t write necessarily to get published (although it would be nice!). I don’t write for money, because let’s be honest, that’s hard to come by. I write because I can do nothing else. Because it makes me happy. Because I go to sleep dreaming new sentences. Because I have wanted this my whole life. Because when I stop writing, I stop dreaming. And life gets boring, quick.
So advice? Don’t give up. You’ll hear it all the time. But keep putting yourself out there. Open yourself to the literary wounds. Experience a few Literary Reckonings. Cry. Then lick another envelope or type another email to send another query out into the world.
Kelly S Thompson is an executive board member of the UBC Creative Writing Alumni Association. Find more about Kelly and her writing at kellysthompson.com.