Licking My Wounds

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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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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

20 Comments

  1. Oooooooooooooooooh mais non!
    C’est ce qui est dur, c’est tellement subjectif ce genre de concours! ça n’enlève rien à ton talent et ton travail.
    Et perso quand j’arrive pas à quelque chose j’ai tendance à me rouler en boule et lacher l’affaire, c’est aussi pour ça que je t’admire tellement! (bon c’est aussi pour ça que j’arrive à rien, et juste quand je ne m’y attendais pas je vais avoir droit à une bonne séance d’introspection)

    • Pour participer à ton introspection : “arriver à quelque chose” (et donc, “arriver à rien”, comme on se le dit souvent) est aussi très subjectif. On a tendance à ne voir que le but super inaccessible, pas ce qu’on a atteint en chemin. Donc je ne dirais pas que tu “n’arrives à rien” en voyant subjectivement ta vie bien remplie 😉

  2. What I usually do is to get desperate, cry a bit, eat some chocolate, go out for long walks and then get back home and keep on trying 😀
    You can never know what will come out of your actions, so if you really want to do this, perhaps you should try different ways of doing it, or doing some courses to improve your writing, doing research if there are other ways to approach publishing companies (through an agent, for example).
    Maybe there is something that is missing in your writing, or maybe the problem is somewhere else. My suggestion is to keep on trying, if after one year and a half ou haven’t received any response that definitely means there’s something that’s not working. But that doesn’t mean it’s you 😉

    • Anything that includes chocolate is usually an excellent idea 🙂 I tend to follow the same pattern. I cry (occasionally), go for a long walk and try again. Have you ever had some unexpected success after trying, trying, and trying again in your life? Just curious 🙂

      Thank you for your wise words. I don’t take rejection personally because these rejections are not personal at all. This is just how it works apparently, you have one chance in… a million? The upside is that I don’t hear any harsh comment about my work, the downside is that I have no idea if I should keep on trying or, like you said, change something. I can’t change the book at this stage, it wouldn’t make any sense (since I never received specific feedback indicating that I should do anything differently). I think I should change the way I query, though… now how, that’s another question!

      Thank you again for giving me something to think about!

      • I think too it would be wise to change the way you query, I think you could have better chances at at least having some feedback on what you write. I have recently discovered that there are several American and European universities offering free online courses. They have several subjects, perhaps you could find something related to writing and that could give you some useful feedback. I can give you some links if you want 🙂
        About me, it has happened sometimes that after trying many times/for a lot of time, I succeeded. I often noticed it was directly related on how badly I wanted that thing. Of course one needs to be realistic towards himself, but I think if you think to bee good at something and you keep on trying and working on it, eventually that will pay off. If it won’t, at least you won’t have any regrets, knowing you had done anything you could.

        • I’d love to see these links, whenever you have the chance to share them!

          I like you last sentence, it makes a lot of sense to me. And I think I would have regrets if I stopped now… so I’ll figure something out to keep on trying! 🙂

  3. Je suis désolée. Je ne suis pas certaine qu’il y ait une logique à tout cela. J’ai participé à un concours d’écriture trois années de suite. La première année j’étais à une marche du podium, déçue forcement mais je me suis dit que je ne pouvais que faire mieux. Et bien au fur et à mesure de mes participations j’ai reculé. Et il en a été de même pour ma participation à un autre concours. Il faut s’accrocher! Mais tu sais tu as le droit de renoncer temporairement, tu as le droit de douter, tu as le droit d’être énervée. Moi en tout cas je ne doute pas de toi. Ton manuscrit je l’ai lu avec la même avidité que n’importe quel bon bouquin. Et j’aurais eu plusieurs personnes à qui le prêter sans problème.

    • Je verrais bien tes textes gagner quelque chose, il y a une espèce de fluidité et d’universalité dans ce que tu écris (sur ton blog, au moins) qui, me semble, peut parler à un jury et à des lecteurs. Ça a dû être une expérience un peu frustrante pour toi! C’était quel type de concours? Et vous étiez classés?

      Ça me fait un peu penser à ces rédactions où la note était très subjective à l’école… j’ai eu 2 en philo toute l’année de terminale pour avoir 14 au Bac. Et franchement, je ne méritais ni l’une ni l’autre de ces notes!

      Je ne me vois pas encore renoncer, vu que même espérer (et surtout écrire) me rend heureuse. Par contre, ça me bloque quand même pour continuer à écrire autre chose (… que le blog) et je regrette souvent de ne pas pouvoir me consacrer à temps plein à ma recherche d’un éditeur. C’est le temps que je n’ai pas et le temps que je consacre à tous ces errements qui m’attriste le plus, finalement.

        • J’ai souri à l’expression québécoise “en bas de” 😉

          Ben écoute… moi je te dirais de retenter quand tu en auras l’occasion, car moi, j’aime tes écris!

  4. Katherine Hopkins on

    Definitely do not give up. I read your blog from time to time and I really enjoy your style. I would read your book.

  5. I’m glad you’re continuing on! You’re a good writer and storyteller and know how to entertain your audience. Sure the world doesn’t “need” any of our work, but it will certainly benefit from it, and that is just as valuable. I do think part of it is luck and who is reading your work and that the 24 finalists are the ones the judges chose but not necessarily the best 24, as some of the assessment is subjective. Not that that takes away the feeling of disappointment, of course.

    When I hit a wall I sometimes talk to people about it, not only friends but people I don’t know well. Actually, often I don’t even talk about the specific issue but just talk to a wide variety of people in general because I find a different perspective on life makes me see my problem in a different way. Often someone will say something enlightening to my situation. Otherwise I can get stuck in my own thoughts and way of approaching of what I am feeling down or frustrated about, as we do when we’re so close to the issue all the time.

    • Thank you for your kind words 🙂

      Like you, I like getting a fresh perspective on issues and I enjoy seeing how people I don’t know deal with problems. Getting stuck with your own thoughts is counterproductive!

  6. Definitely don’t give up! My friend Tudor (who self-publishes her YA novels) once told me something inspirational – that less than 50% of people who write a book will actually submit it; that less than 10% of those will take the feedback given, rework and edit, and re-submit; and then less than 10% of those will try again. So every step of the way, you are pushing past more and more competition, and making your work better and better, narrowing it down to better chances of success. Be the 10%!

    I like entering contests because they make me write something – having a deadline and a general guideline is often enough to kick-start a project and make me feel like I accomplished something. But when it came to my longer stories, I decided not to play the publisher-roulette and self-published my short stories. The book is probably not as successful as it would have been with a traditional publisher but I feel great seeing it in print and so happy it was put out under my own terms. Remember that if you did get a publisher, they’d want to edit it, pick out the cover themselves, control all marketing and publishing…it can feel really gratifying to “win” at the publishing war but it’s also awesome, I think, to take things into your own hands.

    • Thank you for your feedback!

      It’s funny, I completely respect the self-publishing industry but I don’t think it would work for me. I want someone who will edit, pick a cover, market, etc.! I take too many things into my own hands already, for this project, I want to be part of a team.

      Who knows, maybe I’ll change my mind one day. It depends on the project too. I’d probably self-publish guides, short stories, etc.

      Where do you find contests?

  7. Bonjour Juliette
    Et publier à compte d’auteur, tu y as pensé ?
    Est-ce que tu as écrit en français ou en anglais ?
    Ça m’intéresserait de te lire en tout cas.
    Ne perds pas courage et essaie encore, c’est mon conseil.
    Je dis toujours à mes enfants (et à moi-même) : “tu n’es pas plus bête que les autres, pourquoi tu n’y arriverais pas ?” Ou bien “le non tu l’as déjà, donc va chercher le oui”
    Good luck !

    • Bonsoir Cécile,

      J’aime bien tes “phrases de maman”!

      J’ai écrit en anglais. Je ne veux pas me tourner vers la publication à compte d’auteur pour différentes raisons, les principales étant : 1) révisant des livres dans le cadre de mon travail, je sais bien que la publication est un travail d’équipe 2) je ne me sens pas du tout l’âme d’une spécialiste du marketing pour assurer la vente seule 3) j’ai déjà l’impression de gérer beaucoup d’aspects de ma vie en solo (boulot en freelance, éducation de Mark sans trop de réseau de soutien, etc.) et pour une fois, je veux travailler en équipe.

      Si jamais tu te sens l’âme d’une lectrice bêta, je t’enverrai la quatrième de couverture pour que tu vois si ce genre de lecture te tenterait 🙂 J’apprécie beaucoup les lectures, quelques habituées du blog l’ont lu!

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