The rejections are mounting! Rejection 16 came in January when I did not hear from Real Simple Magazine about my entry to their essay contest which asked the question, What was the happiest moment of your life? It is typical that a publication will only inform the winners, so when I don't hear anything around the date specified for announcements, I am confident that I can call it a rejection.
I have submitted to Real Simple numerous times, and I fought this year's topic, not knowing what might stand out to judges as an authentic, thoughtful answer to the question. A friend told me that the magazine didn't want my consternation, they wanted my essay. With usual directness, he told me to hurry up, pick a topic, and get to writing.
I chose the story of reconnecting with college friends who I hadn't seen for nearly 20 years and what I learned about myself as a 40-something compared to the twenty-something I'd been the last time I was with these friends. It wasn't my best work, but I was glad to get the words on paper and to email my submission.
Here's an excerpt from “Happiness in the Aftermath.”
“Post-divorce life keeps teaching that 'what is' should not be compared with 'what once was' or 'what never was.' I am writing a different divorce story. One where I am happy to be on my own. Happy to co-parent my daughter in collaboration and civility with her father. I no longer feel anxiety about what the future may bring. I have tapped into the fun of making up the rules as I go. This weekend confirmed again and again that I have emerged from the aftermath of divorce, happy and joyful. I feel whole and content...”
Getting those words on the screen to re-read to myself is valuable and worth the effort—regardless of where in the publishing world those words land.
This 300 Rejections journey reminds me repeatedly of what's important: Committing and showing up to write. The outcome and quality are secondary. Quality work is a by-product of showing up. Rejection 17 is a stronger submission than Rejection 10 by virtue of the fact that I continue to stretch myself, to swim in words, and discover what's inside that needs to be expressed.
MC Yogi, a yoga teacher and thought leader, posted this phrase on Instagram today: Practice makes progress. I like it better than what I usually tell my daughter, Practice makes proficient.
In the last year or so, I have begun dreaming of giving a TED Talk. It's one of those big, scary goals that I have no idea how to get from here to there to achieve. I first have to figure out what idea of mine is worth spreading, which is the tagline of TED talks.
Today I stood in my daughter's school learning commons (aka the library) and told the librarian about my burgeoning writing pursuits. I told her the back story of 300 Rejections and how I have turned what many writers experience as disappointment and discouragement into motivation, celebration, and a measuring stick for my own grown as a wordsmith.
In the brief conversation, we both heard me say something so elemental, we stopped and gasped. I reached for a pencil and she went running for a piece of paper. I may very well have found my TED talk! Now, the marinating of the seed of an idea will begin. I'll think about it in the shower and on the drive to work. Ideas will sprout as I mow my lawn. I know today that while I may very well be on to something, I have more life to live, more stories to stockpile before this idea turns into to a speech that I craft and practice inside and out.
I also know that this idea wouldn't have happened without these rejections, which is another thing to celebrate.
Rejection 17 was an essay I wrote as an answer to the essay query, How to Survive a Disaster? The deadline was January 31—two weeks after my grandpa's funeral. I channeled my grief and energy into writing this essay, and the result is a four-page essay that I am deeply proud of. It took so much out of me in the days following my grandpa's death that I didn't write anything substantive for months after.
I stalked the web site on April 30, the day the announcement was supposed to be made. Then I forgot about it until a few days ago. The announcement was delayed. While I didn't find my name listed, at least I know definitively that I can count this one as Rejection 18.
I feel strongly about this essay, so I have two more places I want to submit it to before I publish it here. So, I'll either get Rejections 19 and 20, or I'll get my first 300 Rejections-inspired acceptance. I'll report back when I know either way. In the meantime, keep doing whatever it is that you do that lights your fire, keeps you up late or wakes you up early. We need to keep bringing those things that light us up into the world.