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Licking My Wounds

Ottawa, September 2018

I shouldn’t have cried but it was the law straw.

I had been waiting for this email for weeks—I just hadn’t expected it to show up in my inbox at 10:30 p.m. on Labour Day. Since it took me by surprise, it didn’t occur to me to follow the modern important-email ritual, which includes a long pause before opening the message and possibly a prayer to a God I don’t believe in.

I clicked on it as if it were just another email.

What a fool.

I scanned it. I read fast. Speed reading is usually an asset but not this time because it took me about two seconds to realize my name wasn’t on the winners list.

Misty-eyed, I read the list again, slower. Definitely not on it. I burst into tears of frustration and I immediately felt stupid. You’d think I would have learned to cope with rejection by now. And usually, I am, but this time I was really hoping something would come out of this.

“This” was a short story challenge I entered in June. The rules were straightforward—50 paragraphs, first and last provided. No entry fee, international submissions welcome as long as the story is in English.

I spent a few weeks writing a story. I liked the final result. I made sure I met the requirements, I submitted my work before the deadline… and I’m not sure why I feel the need to mention I followed the guidelines, but I did.

I wasn’t hoping for the first prize—I lack a competitive spirit, plus years of European self-depreciation and existential doubt taught me that I’m definitely not the best. Yet, after a year and a half of unsuccessful querying for my manuscript, a call for submissions was too good to pass up. Maybe I could be one of the 24 finalists, I fantasized. Maybe I could get some feedback on my writing. Maybe mentioning a small recent success in future query letters could help my case.

Yeah, it would have been nice.

Like a masochist, I read the email one last time. “It’s my fault,” I berated myself. “I opened it too fast.” As if the list would have been different if I had paused before opening it. Disappointed people are irrational—well, maybe not you, but I certainly am.

But really, who could I blame but myself? I wasn’t going to blame the judges who picked the best stories. I wasn’t going to blame a world in which there are better writers than me—I’m a reader too, I’m happy to know there are plenty of people who can write!

I cried quietly in my room for fifteen minutes—less than that and it’s not cathartic, any longer and it’s suspiciously depressing—like a responsible disappointed adult, then I moved the email to the “queries” folder that I should rename the “rejections” folder.

I’m still disappointed and I’m still hurt. I want to shout, “I’m quitting!” purely out of spite because after all, spending your free time sending unsolicited letters and chapters samples to strangers and getting rejected or ignored isn’t a very healthy or productive activity. It’s too bad that writing stories is both the-thing-that-I-enjoy and the-thing-I-thought-I-was-good-at. If I quit, I’m not inconveniencing some random manager and HR, I’m hurting myself. The world will be just fine without my words, but my world wouldn’t be the same if I stop typing words.

I’m fully aware that not all dreams come true. Otherwise, there would be fewer people living in favelas, working dead-end jobs or living paycheque to paycheque.

Maybe it’s time for me to accept that the fact I enjoy writing doesn’t make my stories publishable.

Maybe I should quit my daydream.

Maybe it’s not too late to pick up another harmless activity—knitting? Rock climbing? Blogg—oh, never mind.

Fuck. It hurts.

I wasn’t expecting success but I was hoping for some kind of progress by now. Instead, I have a handful of rejection emails and zero feedback from the many queries sent.

What do you guys do when you feel stuck and options are running out?


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