On Resilience

My rejection from the NEA.

My rejection from the NEA.

My friends and I sat down a few days ago for our annual year-end review, where we look at the goals we’d set twelve months before and create new lists for the coming year. 2015 was overwhelmingly terrific in most ways, especially with the release of WHISPER HOLLOW and the many, many readers who honored me by reading, reviewing and discussing it.

News, interviews, nominations and honors were posted by me and others here and on other social media platforms, and let me tell you, it did my ego good to see all those shining, validating mentions. And if you don’t know me very well, it might look like my writing life is just a bowl of cherries, because what doesn’t get posted, what most people don’t know about, are the many, many rejections I receive, the sad-faced emoticons I use when I forward them to my best friends, the sometimes crushing episodes of self-doubt, the (usually brief, thankfully) feelings of despondency and failure.

Being rejected—from anything, for any reason—really sucks. But what sucks worse is pretending that it doesn’t happen. It’s a dishonest representation of my life as a writer. I know that some of you reading this are also writers trying to get your work accepted by journals, agents, editors, readers. You may look, as I sometimes do, at the seemingly endless success of authors you admire, and wonder what the hell am I doing wrong? Let this be a small candle in the darkness, then, an assurance that you’re not alone.

Amid the success of WHISPER HOLLOW, the book tour, the publicity and all of it, here is the news that didn’t get shared on social media. In 2015, my work was rejected by:

4 residency programs

1 writers’ conference

9 literary journals

9 publishers

6 awards committees

2 literary festivals

There’s certainly more that I’m not aware of; my publicists at Other Press were kind enough to pass along mostly good news.

Without meaning to fetishize failure, the upside is that I’m trying. I’m attempting to connect my work and myself with other writers, other readers, and the only way to accomplish that is to risk being passed over, harshly critiqued, rejected. I don’t have any simple advice on how to deal with the emotional, psychological and creative consequences. I’m still trying to figure that out. But I’m endlessly grateful to be able to spend my working hours as I do, in a way that feels examined and purposeful, filled with dreams and ideas and more than a little magic. If the price of admission is an inbox full of pink slips, then so be it. It isn’t easy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In her talk based on an essay titled “Fail Safe”, writer and “Design Matters” host Debbie Millman said, “If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve. Do what you love, and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time. Start now. Not 20 years from now, not two weeks from now. Now.”

So I’ll imagine more instead. My goals for 2016 include receiving at least 31 rejections along with whatever successes may come my way. Starting now.