Failure: Becky’s (All Too Familiar) Philosophy

This one hits close to home because of something that happened to me recently. I had submitted something to a creative writing journal, one where I have a profile and have been following for some time. Finally, I had a story: what I thought was a good story, one that fit their style. I submitted it, only to get an email back a few weeks later addressing me as “Beck”. Though I had put in my submitted biography that my name is Becky, my virtual profile has the typo missing the “y” (something I keep forgetting to fix. I’ll get to it eventually…)

My days in email marketing have taught me that, while the note may have appeared personal, this typo meant that it’s possible my story wasn’t even really reviewed or considered — that my submission it was compiled into an email list titled “Rejects”, drawing my name from my profile and my story title as variables to make it look like a personal email. It’s possible/probable that this is standard procedure, but to me, this felt like I was cast aside, looped into a group of rejects despite all my efforts. I was not a part of their cool kids’ club.

“But I have such a unique voice! Did they not read the dialogue? How natural does that sound? So natural! An art!” I thought to myself. A regression back to the days where I thought all criticism was an attack on my creative persona. A misunderstanding of the art.

Then, I thought “Well, maybe it is a shit story. It does sound a little awkward. Maybe I should scrap it all together. It’s no good.” I reread it, over-analyzing each word I chose to use in some sort of masochistic ritual that probably did more harm to the story than good. I turned to some of my other stories, stories that I feel good about, and did the same thing. “Maybe I’m not as good as I thought.”

Overall, I don’t think this meditation process is bad. It is good to humble yourself, to acknowledge that even what you think is your best work is fallible. It’s so easy to get so wrapped up in a story so far that you cannot see that doesn’t exactly capture the picture you have in your mind.

However, just because you don’t create your best work all the time doesn’t mean you are a complete failure. There would be no mystique or struggle, no rawness in art if it was that easy. If it was easy to land a spot in NYT, well, it wouldn’t be a craft, which is what it is.

I’m going to draw off of the philosopher Montaigne, or more specifically, Alain de Botton’s Philosophy: A Guide To Happiness: On Self Esteem, which draws off of Montaigne. You can find the twenty minute clip here. My favorite line in this is “Kings and philosophers shit, and so do ladies.”

As a lady who does in fact shit, I can confirm this is correct, but that is beside the point. It’s important to realize that even the greats can have their blunders — that they struggled to gain their success and their notoriety. That even the greats have their weak, embarrassing, shit-filled moments.

Last week I talked about beauty, about finding your inner voice. How if you are to learn how to speak in your true, authentic voice, your writing will be more beautiful.

Much like in real, aesthetically driven world we live in, not everyone is going to think you are beautiful. They may notice that your prose is stilted, the dialogue too crass, or, maybe, it’s just not their cup of tea. This is very much like a Tinder date who might point out that your nose is more crooked than it appeared in your picture. Especially when you are a no-name writer with no publications under your belt, it could just be that the first sentence rubbed the reviewer in the wrong way.

While it’s important to stay humble, it is also important to realize when you are proud of a story you have created. Even if it is just the skeleton of the story you are proud of, it is still a story worth telling if you are truly passionate about it. It might need some work, but one rejection letter shouldn’t stop you from fixing it, from continuing to work on it, from creating it into the story you know it can be.

Rather than hanging up your laptop or your notebook (or your typewriter?) take a note from Stephen King:

“By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”

In all honesty, after rereading the story I submitted, it probably could gone through a few more revisions before I had submitted it. With a more critical, less enamored eye, I noticed that I had left out some periods. That there were some possessives in there that didn’t have to be possessives. Things that should have been corrected while revising but I was too caught up in the story to notice. I can see why they would have rejected it. While I think the story is still a good one, it was put together in a passionate swoop — a messy, passionate, one-night-stand style swoop.

It is the strength to continue that separates the successful writers from the ones who fall off the grid. Even if the success is in your own mind — even if it is a piece of prose, or one line that you are particularly proud of. If it is something you are truly passionate about, don’t let one rejection letter stop you from doing what you love to do.

I’m going to plug my site’s workshop in here because I do think it is an incredibly helpful tool. If you have a story that you think has potential, feel free to submit it to the Writing Portal. If anything, it is a free tool that will help to guide you through the process.

But most importantly, just keep on writing, will ya?

This was originally posted on my virtual writing community: