Being an independent writer, I often times forget that I can fail, and when I do I often have trouble admitting so. It’s not that I don’t like failing… I mean, I don’t, who does? But what I’m getting at is most of the time failing doesn’t bother me. It didn’t used to, anyway. Most of it is because my failings are mostly self-contained. I write a piece of garbage, I read it, and I realize it is indeed garbage. I laugh, then throw it out. Simple as that, no harm done. Well, I recently sent out a few pieces of poetry I thought were decent, if not some of my best, as egotistical and vain as that sounds.
One of the journals was known for giving scathing feedback if they felt a piece was not worthy of the public eye, and out of respect for the journal I will not be posting their name. I knew this, though I was naive to think I wouldn’t receive any. Well, as I’m sure you can infer, I heard back from all journals with all rejections. The ones without any feedback I simply put away in my drawer, but one particular journal, the one which gave hard, scathing feedback, sent me more than just a simple rejection. It wasn’t just one page of feedback, but three.
There were three pages of “trying too hard” and “unrefined,” “unoriginal” and “without a commandment of language.” I was floored. I read each page three or four times, careful to note how many times each of those phrases and words came up. I had never been told these things in my life. I don’t think I’ve ever received that much feedback. I spent the good part of the night just staring at these pages. I felt worthless, and I felt utterly betrayed. Though the betrayal was not toward the journal, more so at my friends, family, and kind strangers or teachers who had told me all the opposite had been true.
I had always been told my work was “original” “well-crafted” and that I had a “talent,” which would ultimately lead to mass success in the future. Had they all been lies? Probably most of them. At my age and with enough rejection letters to re-wallpaper my house, I know I am not God’s gift to the literary world. I’m not the best writer, and I probably never will be. I’d be ignorant and foolish to think otherwise. Regardless, I’ve always had confidence in what I’ve done, that I did have something of a talent. While not perfect, I always thought I had enough that with enough practice I could at least match the greatness found within works by my fellow aspiring authors.
After reading this review? I felt embarrassed, mortified, and that all I had done had been an utter waste. Eventually, I just put the feedback in my drawer and went to bed. I didn’t write another word for three or four days. I no longer felt confident in what I had been working on for so long. What was the point when all of it would result in failure? Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a writer after all.
Then, a close friend gave the above quote as a gift, already framed and ready to be hung on my wall. I was stunned. This quote couldn’t have come at a better time. It was by Teddy Roosevelt, and reads:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
– Teddy Roosevelt (“Citizenship in a Republic: The Man in the Arena” speech delivered 23 April, 1910 in Paris, France)
Now this, just as I did with the scathing feedback, I read over and over and over… Particularly, “who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and cruel souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I had forgotten that failure in itself is a triumph. I did something most people would never do. I faced rejection, and while I still was, in fact, rejected, I still had tried. I had feedback I could utilize to fuel my drive and make my writing better. The only real reason I had failed was because I had perceived my rejection as a failure, when I should have viewed it as a success. I had done something wrong, but I could fix it. I would be cold no longer. I would this rejection to fuel my fire and rage on, in hopes of triumphing and publishing more and more work.
Rejection comes with the territory of writing. It happens, but I must remember that feedback and reviews will also come along… and they won’t always pat my butt and make me feel good. Rejections aren’t failures, they are small triumphs to success.
This quote now hangs above my desk, where I usually read rejections and write my stories and poems. It is a reminder that:
It is only failure when you give up. Keep writing, and keep trying. Don’t ever let your fire go cold, as corny as that may sound.
I hope this post serves as your reminder to never give up, too. Thanks for reading.
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