Pride and anxiety exist on a seesaw of extremes for me.
That’s not new or especially unique though it may help the rest of you to know that the cockiest, loudest people are often just reassuring themselves — it’s more sympathetic than it looks. What it does mean, though, is that very few of my accomplishments feel steady.
McSweeny’s is a fantastic small comedy site that rejected me. Over and over. For years.
This is more important than you think. The internet is a strange place. Most often, you write with no real barriers — think Tumblr or Twitter — or the process is mechanical and weary. After all, many sites are eager to pump out limp content for cheap clicks, and to be rejected, consistently, was impossibly chilling.
It was my worst nightmare.
Rejection is death. Defeat. You spin a web to see it crumpled? For free? Never. I was ready to fade out, to quit, when instead I did something I’d never done before.
I really fucking tried. I tried again. And again. I edited. I obsessed. I fantasized. I proofread and let pieces marinate for weeks before I dared send them out. I sent second, third, fourth pieces. I sent unsolicited panicked last-minute edits.
And, time after time, they got rejected.
They say rejection is the worst part of writing, other than the pay, the insecurity, and the fear, the worry that obsessional talking is less artistic than you’d thought.
But it was the best thing that happened to me.
Rejection scared the shit out of me so I made pre-emptive excuses. Before I got trying, I’d send pieces unread because I was scared to find errors. It was nervous laziness; it was a type of self-loathing that makes you anxious to see the mirror. I obsessively knew my weakness but was too scared to confront it.
But something in me kept trying.
I’d quit after a string of rejections. After each piece, I improved, and each time I truly felt that this would be my time. I’d sit back, proud and excited. Against all odds, a hope would bubble up within me. And every time I was wrong.
It was fresh, shocking,
It was better than I thought. Each article I wrote showed improvement, and it was comforting to watch my skill grow with time and effort. It was something real and steady outside of my imagination and fear.
I kept getting rejected. It was fine. I learned about effort and luck. If you use external success as a measuring tool you’re going to get distortions.
Instead, I had to look within. I had to let my hope and love of writing overcome the near inevitable odds of defeat. I had to try harder and harder for no real purpose. I had to take blind faith that rejection made me stronger.
I got published in McSweeny’s today.
I’d expected to make it rain with my whopping $0 check. I thought I’d brag and yell or stunt with a Drake playlist. But I feel uncharacteristically humbled.
Rejection taught me not to tie myself too heavily to acceptance and to follow the love of writing for its own sake.
So I won’t celebrate.