Rejection is part of a writer’s life. We all know this. Rejections will outnumber acceptances. It’s a statistical certainty. So we learn to respond to rejection with acceptance—at least intellectually. But our very human emotions insist otherwise.
When I receive a rejection for my work, the first thing I feel is disappointment, and then a sense of embarrassment bordering on shame that I had the temerity to think that my work was good enough to be considered by such and such journal, residency, or contest. That self-flagellation, of necessity, turns to a shrug as I type Declined into my spreadsheet, where the sea of Declines nearly obliterates the tiny islands of Accepteds. I remind myself this is the norm, which allows me to try again and again.
Recently I applied for the Granada Writers in Residence Programme, which involved a one-month stay with opportunities to participate in the city’s literary life. At a certain level, I knew it was a long shot. Still, I hoped, even fantasized about winning and being part of the literary community in Granada for a glorious month.
There were seventy applications from thirty different countries. There were one to three applicants from each country except for the twelve from Iran, which makes me wish one of those writers had been chosen. The selected writers were a man from Argentina and a woman from Chile, both with impressive accomplishments and whose author photos evince great writerly depth.
So, yes, I did feel that sense of shame at applying for something for which my resume likely registered at the puny mark compared to the winners. On the other hand, I was one of sixty-eight people who did not win. Which is the other way to look at such losses. I was of the majority. I was not alone.
On the other other hand (if I am allowed to have three hands), I also wonder if my age is another factor that works against me. Yes, we did have to reveal our date of birth on the application. But did they ask about the daily planks and boat poses that strengthen my 68-year-old abs, hip flexors, and spine, and unknot my internal organs, putting a spring in my step despite the injuries sustained from thirty years of running?
In general, I can take loss and rejection, if not in stride, at least with a reasonable measure of temporarily hurt pride. But there’s one rejection that happened 16 years ago that still rankles my writer’s soul. I decided to apply to a low-residency MFA program that two of my friends were already in. They encouraged me to apply and I was unable to resist the idea. I told myself that if I got in, well, great, and if I didn’t, then, fine. Except, not fine.
I didn’t get in. It turned out I was one of the last, if not the last, to be cut from consideration. I was surprised at my reaction, at how keenly I felt the blow of No.
This was not one of those rejections I could shrug it off. It clung to me like a monkey. I’m embarrassed to say I moped and cried for three days. I never applied again to that or any other program. Too much life happened with my job, my family, my own everyday woes. It felt too crowded for an MFA program—even a low-res one designed for just such crowded lives.
I wonder how different my path would’ve been as a writer had I attended an MFA program. Would I have found a quicker path to publication? Would writing be easier? Would I be a smarter reader? Would I be more balanced in the face of rejections? More confident when it came to acceptances?
I’m elated when I win something, but the elation is tempered by a nagging sense that if I won, how meaningful was the award? Had my selection diluted its worth? It’s the old Groucho Marx self-deprecatory philosophy that “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”
But just as I’ve become better at accepting rejection, I’m getting better at accepting the acceptances as real and deserved. And I am truly grateful for and embrace the good things that have come my way lately, especially in terms of the recognition that Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories has received.
Now I’m on the verge of completing the final draft of a new novel. I’ll be looking for an agent. There will be ignored queries and rejected queries in soul-killing numbers, and, maybe, after a while, amid the sea of Declines on my spreadsheet, there will be a very real Accepted. Fingers crossed.