For the past few months I spent a decent amount of time polishing a story. I won’t post it here; my mom has been encouraging me to submit some of my writing to journals for publication. Most journals consider blogs to be self-publishing and will not consider self-published stories. I’m afraid to do it. I’m not entirely sure where to send stories, or even how to submit stories. I also know that it is extremely unlikely I would ever be published. (I don’t know if my mom fully appreciates how unlikely it is. I have a better chance of winning the lottery.) Being published would be a monumental achievement.
Mainly I don’t submit stories because I fear rejection. I don’t take rejection well AT ALL, and I don’t take criticism well AT ALL. When I receive criticism, I take it personally; I feel discouraged and I engage in a lot of negative self talk. (Pink, (whom I don’t normally like) had the best comment on that. “Change the voices in your head, make them like you instead.” If only it was that easy.)
I know I am not alone in these feelings. Women are far more likely to feel insecure than men. In the book Lean In, Cheryl Sandberg recounts a medical school study. the study compared the students’ self-evaluations with the teachers’ evaluations. The women consistently underrated their performances, the men consistently overrated their performances. More pertinently, I read an article about how women handle rejection and it specifically mentioned writing. A journal was looking to increase its publications by women and examined why fewer women’s stories were published. They discovered that, upon receiving an official rejection letter, women were less likely to resubmit new stories. Men, on the other hand, continued to submit stories until they were eventually published. I worry I would take rejection just as badly.
But maybe I don’t need to worry.
Recently I wrote a blog post, which was partly inspired by a Youtube video. I spent several weeks outlining the post and doing research, looking for pertinent videos. And I haven’t even mentioned the writing! I spent hours upon hours crafting perfect sentences, and talking to myself. (No, not because I”m crazy. I mean, I am crazy, but wasn’t talking to myself because I am crazy. I was talking to myself because I frequently need to hear how the words sound in my ear before I know that they are correct.) I would write drafts and excerpts in my spare time and reread the post multiple times. Finally, I simply had to stop, because I was putting an unhealthy degree of time and effort into a blog post. I published it, but continued to tweak it days, and even weeks, later.)
I felt so proud of myself. I don’t always feel it after publishing a post, but I absolutely did at that moment. I made sure my mom read it; I checked my stats constantly. I was tempted to e-mail it to everyone I know. Instead, I went back to the Youtube video and posted a link to my post. Spamming? Most likely. Shameless self promotion? Most definitely. Completely out of character? To some degree, yes. Even so, at that moment, I was blinded by my sense of accomplishment. I could not wait to see how she responded.
My post was deleted.
(I did not realize, at that time, that posting links on Youtube videos can often be marked as spam.)
For a moment, I simply felt confused, and then I felt upset. Had I offended her? I hoped not; I did not wish to make her angry. Perhaps, I reasoned, she had a strict no spamming policy. I could not blame her, she must get a frightening amount of spam, and I was spamming her. It was a shameless act of self-promotion.
Did I feel bad about her response? I did for a minute but then it faded. I still LOVE what I wrote. I worked hard on it and, I love the result. I felt very proud of my small accomplishment, and the deletion did not detract from my pride in the slightest.
In a crazy way, I felt like Walter White.
Those of you who have followed the twisted, sordid, thrilling rise and fall of Heisenberg, the crystal meth king, will remember the last time that Walt saw his wife Skyler. All along, Walt has maintained that he cooked crystal meth and built an empire for the sake of his family. Now, having lost everything, Skyler refuses to listen to that familiar, tinny refrain. To her surprise, Walt confesses. “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it.”
It’s not quite the same. Walt’s realization is a shameful admission. I feel no shame, nor should I. Essays are not crystal meth. No one has died as a result, nor is anyone likely to die. But at the same time, Walt and I are fundamentally the same. I did not write the essay for my mom, for my wordpress followers, the girl on Youtube, or anyone else. I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it.
I feel the same way about the story I wrote. I wrote the story because I like the idea and I found it fun to write. In doing so, I found an opportunity to express feelings and explore ideas I have struggled with for the past year or two. Perhaps best of all was the feeling of accomplishment I felt when it was finally finished. when I shared it with my mom and best friend, they liked it. The inevitable rejection letters cannot steal any of that from me.
I realized at the end of my experience, that I should probably submit my story. I know it will be rejected, most stories are, but I have nothing to lose. Rejection doesn’t change the truth. I liked it. I was good at it. I did it for me.