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the Empathy List #73: Stick-to-it-iveness, AKA what I've learned from 350+ writing rejections
There's no shortcut to resiliency.
Hello friend, Liz here.
Let me ask you: how comfortable are you receiving rejection?
Any career in the arts is full of it. When I tell friends how often I’m rejected (weekly), they balk. I could never do that.
I disagree. I always want to say, you can’t do it because you aren’t doing it.
For myself, I meticulously track my rejections.
I have a service I use to track all the times I’ve submitted my writing to a publication, and over the past 12 months, I’ve sent my work out 57 times and so far, I have also received 30 rejections, along with a small handful of acceptances.
That high number of rejections doesn’t count the number of book publishers who’ve passed on my memoir manuscript when my literary agent has come knocking. (We’re knocking now, btw, and no one’s yet cracked the door yet.)
If I go backward in time, to 2010 when I first started meticulously notating all the times I tried to get published, in all, I’ve submitted my writing to 406 times to hundreds of outlets.
That means, I’ve uploaded an essay or a collection into an anonymous portal or sent an email or constructed a pitch, launching my art in the world in hopes that someone else would see its value and publish it.
In 11 years of holding my art in my hands, I’ve faced down 351 rejections.
Most of those NOs were either impersonal (a form letter—”sorry, this doesn’t fit our current needs…”) or whoever I sent my writing never responded at all (crickets!).
Rejection can be painful, yes. But by now, I’ve had some practice and I believe that growing used to rejection is a skill.
I am a believer that any skill can be learned, any strength cultivated. Any arduous experience can be lived through if only you are forced to live through it. This is because us humans are driven to stay alive and to seek meaning at all costs.
That doesn’t mean we aren’t tempted by shortcuts. Yet shortcuts don’t produce the results we’d expect.
As we’ve seen so painfully, a pastor-to-be might skip seminary, start a mega church and then, despite soaring numbers, all of it could burn in a spectacular implosion because that leader’s character isn’t strong enough to hold the building up.
The same is true of other celebrities—they might be able to win an Oscar at age 23 or sweat to a gold medal at 15, but with that fame comes a tsunami of influence they’re not ready for, and that influence can lead to twitter to blow ups and cancellation just as easily as exploitation by those who are (supposedly) in their corner.
Finding success and a meaningful life is exceedingly rare.
In my writing career, I have learned everything the hard way, and perhaps the most significant lesson has been that rejection is an essential step toward growth as a human.
While it is uncomfortable and painful, it is the way that good writers learn. Take whatever feedback and get back to the page. Nurture the main characters (in my case, the protagonist is the writer behind the keyboard). Explore generously. Then, spend yourself for the sake of your audience without heed for your own safety.
Lasting art is not selfish, nor merely self-expressive, but considers the audience.
I have found another significant grace in receiving so many writing rejections: I can relate with the marginalized, whose voices have never been valued or respected, whose very bodies are viewed as threats. My empathy is expanding, and so is my resiliency.
Then again, I cannot always avoid shoulding myself: I should be further along, I should be one of those people with a book deal, I should be recognized for my brilliance. That trap of comparison can cause me to believe I’m suffering uniquely, that every other person on the planet has a book deal. I play the victim, I feel bitter. Why does E V E R Y T H I N G have to be S O HARD?
Perhaps one day a month, that pile of rejections seems to radiate with inspiration. So what if someone says no? On my best days, a rejection becomes an opportunity to practice good boundaries and patience.
After all, I want to be a person who is patient, generous, steadfast and unmoved. Finding a way to make peace with all those rejections can get me there.
Regardless what my self-talk sounds like, the key to stick-to-ive-ness is to keep plodding forward, whether it’s the pursuit of art or career success or finding a path through infertility. After all, this road isn’t going to walk itself, now is it? And isn’t it always the way that once we get walking, we look around and see a crowd journeying with us.
I’m on the road with you, my friend.
Thanks for reading. Warmly, Liz Charlotte Grant
A brief PSA: this newsletter has been sent out weekly up ‘til now, but I’m finding that’s too taxing to get this out every week—it can take me 5-10 hours to get this email together for ya! So I’m switching to an every other week schedule... ;-)
If this email was forwarded to you…
If these words inspire you…
If you have thoughts to add…
The U.S. hit 700,000 deaths due to COVID-19, surpassing the lives lost due to the America’s most deadly pandemic, the flu pandemic of 1918.
View photos of the temporary memorial on the national mall: 700,000 white flags, onto which family members and friends wrote messages to their deceased loved ones. The artist behind the installation placed all those flags on a grid on the national mall that can be walked through, and it’s beautiful and heart-breaking, like all good art should be.
National Geographic | Read
Do you remember hearing about a volcanic eruption in the Spanish Canary Islands? Welp, it’s still erupting, threatening all sorts of natural disasters with it.
Video footage is perhaps the best way to understand the power of volcanic activity—and so, in case you’d like to take a moment to remember how small you are in the universe, below is a clip of lava slowly swallowing a swimming pool.
Strangely, it felt calming and meditative to watch, though I did wonder if home insurance covers lava flows…?
Read my latest essay at the Curator, all about the grandmother of performance art. (FYI: this piece of mine is a bit graphic, seeing as her medium is her own body and much of her work is about pushing her naked body to its limits!)
the Curator Magazine | Read
The legacy of the Black Panthers has cast a long shadow on our country.
The longform reporting into the story of Black Liberation leader Russell Maroon Shoatz gives insight into the fight for racial justice—and what that same fight cost his family.
“In 2014 in Pennsylvania, Russell Maroon Shoatz was released from twenty-two consecutive years of solitary confinement into the general prison population. This is twenty-one years and fifty weeks longer than the length of time in solitary the United Nations has deemed to be torture. Having spent so much time in a small space, he had trouble walking and could not climb the stairs to the cafeteria. He felt overwhelmed by other people, whose presence he had so desperately missed for all those years. Known to his supporters inside and outside the prison as a Black liberation leader, he now found it physically difficult to stand up tall. That he was even alive was more than many who considered him a cop killer wanted: they believed that his punishment should have been death…”
“…In a strange twist, at least two members of Russell’s immediate family ended up going into law enforcement. Russell and Bonnie’s son Hassan spent four years in the Marine Corps, and when he left the military, he wrote to his father in prison and asked Russell how he would feel if Hassan joined the Washington, DC, police. Russell told me, ‘I ENCOURAGED him to follow through on that, as by then it was CLEAR to me MORE could be accomplished WITHIN the system.’”
Plough | Read
What is “Squid Game”? Here’s what are you (not) missing:
“‘Squid Game’… is just empty, bloody calories.”
(BTW, when I first heard about the show, I misunderstood the premise and thought the show was REAL—an the actual Hunger Games—and asked my husband, “How is that legal?” “Um, it’s fiction, Liz…” Oh, right, of course, duh… haha.)
NYT | Read
Just for Fun
I’m pretty sure ALL these fails have happened to me IRL.
Just not on camera.
Which is exactly the reason why I’m never buying my children cell phones… ;-)