“Rejection is the most common thing a writer can experience. When it comes to writing, rejection is the rule, not the exception. If you cannot handle rejection, don’t be a writer.” –Roxane Gay
In the last eight months, I’ve been awarded a PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellowship and a Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation (VONA) fellowship, had my first short story published, another story accepted for publication, and was admitted to a fully-funded MFA creative writing program.
Before you vomit, I want to tell you that I share this not to make anyone hate me, but because I did not receive any of these accolades the first time I applied for them. To be even clearer: I was rejected a lot before I heard one “yes” to my writing. My new joke is that I never get anything the first time I apply, so I always save all my applications and prepare to apply again.
Around this time last year, I was lying in my bed late at night, eating McDonald’s apple pies in an oversized muumuu, feeling sorry for myself. I had recently started writing again after several years without writing a word, and I decided to apply for several writing opportunities. I received rejection letters from every opportunity I applied for last year—Emerging Voices, fourteen MFA programs (one by one, over several weeks), and the VONA workshop that I desperately wanted to attend. Each rejection included phrases like: We received tons of applications/It was a very difficult decision/Keep Writing/Don’t give up. With each letter, I felt my self-doubt inflate inside me, like a balloon, the pressure leaving room for not much else.
For a couple of weeks, I brooded and ate multiple desserts a day. I contemplated going to law school for the millionth time. I began to believe that my voice wasn’t worth being heard. I wanted to give up writing again.
Then I remembered the Emerging Voices Meet and Greet that I’d attended the summer before. I remembered the current fellows being asked, “Did any of you apply for the fellowship more than once?” I noticed several of them timidly raise their hands in front of the large crowd of prospective applicants. I also remembered why the Fellowship existed to begin with—to give a voice to those who may not typically have one otherwise; to those of us who haven’t seen much of our own stories in literature because we grew up poor, or Latinx, or code-switching, or female, or disabled, or queer, or fat.
So I started writing again. And, this time, without worrying about writing fellowships, or programs, or contests. I simply wrote for me. Because I liked to write as a kid, and as a teenager. Because I quit writing in my twenties for no good reason. I went to work each day and afterwards, I drove to my local coffee shop and ate cheap egg sandwiches and wrote all evening. I read diversely. I wrote more frequently. I took myself seriously as a writer, as a person with a story to tell.
When the EV application cycle came back around, I decided to give it another shot. I got in the second time. I felt better the second go-round because I’d worked harder; this time it felt like I’d earned it.
As the fellowship went on, we talked to the authors that we met with about the submission process. They shared about having poetry manuscripts rejected over and over, having novels sit in a drawer for years due to a lack of confidence, memoirs unwritten because of fear, and finally pushing through all that self-doubt.
Sometimes I think: Where would I be right now had I not given it all another shot? Had I not believed in my stories enough to apply again?