The day I received my 4th rejection letter for my manuscript, and my 2nd rejection for a short story, I updated my Instagram bio to add another line. Underneath Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, I typed "writer".
And then I stopped writing.
I remember the breaking point distinctively. Scrambling to get my work things collected on a mid-week morning, grabbing my purse, keys, coffee, and shoes, I heard the email notification beep on my phone. Jogging to the laundry room, I decided I'd give my phone a quick glance before heading out the back door to show up late again to work. Sitting on the top of the washing machine where I'd left it, I slid the notification panel down on my phone to read only the subject line. There, a single message from another literary agency sat waiting in my inbox. I sighed a little, throwing my phone into my purse without another look, and headed out the door.
On my commute, I thought only of this email. A large part of me knew what it said: "Thank you for choosing our literary agency to submit your work. Unfortunately, we're going to have to pass on your manuscript. Best of luck in your future writing endeavors." I'd received several emails already with a similar, singular paragraph capable of knocking hope out of this novice writer's heart. Still, an infinitesimal piece of me held on to the optimistic idea that they were writing to request more. I did my best to prepare myself for both outcomes, yet mostly telling myself that it'd be okay if in fact it was another "no", that at least I was trying, and I'd keep on pushing out those emails until I received a "yes".
Settling into my oversized and not-so-comfortable office chair, I opened up my personal email with one eye half open. Praying, hoping, and wishing for a dream to be answered...
It was another "no".
I felt my chest deflate a little while I stared at the typed-out words until my contacts began to blur the script. "Okay, then. No problem, Margo. We'll just keep trying, My Dear." I said to myself, my heart over-brimming with disappointment nevertheless. Several minutes later, another email rolled in. This time, it was regarding an online magazine where I had submitted a short story. I'd been waiting to hear back for months, and unlike my manuscript, I felt much more confident about the acceptance probability of this story.
"Hi, Margo. Thanks for submitting to our online magazine. We're sorry to inform you..." Well, shit.
I sat there looking back and forth at the rejection emails. Whatever air was left in my chest had escaped with the last email. As a first-time manuscript hopeful, with no formal writing background, and a teeny-tiny platform an ant would find difficult to stand on, I knew I would have to climb some pretty high walls, sail over tall and wide hurdles, and walk many pothole-filled roads before I could ever hope to get a foreign "Yes, please. We'd love to look at your work." kind of response. Nonetheless, it still stung something awful.
It's taken me 30 years to realize that I love to write. When I sit down at a computer or with a pen in hand, I can write for hours before realizing that amount of time has passed. It's something that I feel I should be doing every single day, and not only that, I want to do it every single day. Sometimes, I even surprise myself with what falls out of my head to land on the paper before me. It's my passion, and I'm starting to believe, my purpose. Writing always feels so incredibly right to me...so why in the world do I feel like I'm beating my sensitive noggin against a cold, apathetic concrete wall?
I'm not sure what it was exactly, a moment of madness, a small, defiant act against the pandemonium raging between my ears telling me to stop, to give up, that I wasn't and never would be enough, and that I should reserve myself to a world where I could never say that I was a published author; or, perhaps it was my stubborn, dig-your-heels-in Midwestern nature kicking into high gear, but I opened my Instagram app, and decided it was time to edit my profile. After all, if I can still believe in, and hold out hope for myself on a day with multiple rejections, then surely I can do it on any other day.
Now, I wish I could stop the story here. It makes for a "leaving things on a positive note" kind of ending. But it wouldn't be the truth. Because I must admit to you what came after my act of defiance against the rejections - something complacent, maybe weak, and certainly fragile...
Upon updating my profile, I glanced down at the light yellow sticky note that held my To-do list for the day. Some actual work stuff, and some writing stuff I'd get to later. After gawking at it for a minute or two, I preemptively scratched a few things off - only the writing stuff. I decided I'd take a break from writing after all. I decided I'd stop. Instead, I would focus solely on work, getting lost in the sea of tasks always needing attention, diving into the things I had zero passion for. And that's what I did. From believing in myself fully, to doubting everything I wanted, I swung back and forth across the spectrum of being a novice writer, and unfortunately got stuck on the ugly side of it.
For several days, I focused on my work. Burying myself in my 9-5 tasks, filling my morning To-do list with plenty of the "should" stuff and not the "must" things. (If I've lost you at this point, I'm referring to the book by Elle Luna, The Crossroads of Should and Must.) I got a crap-ton done; things long neglected on dusty notes adorned in coffee stains that I could now remove from my desk. I should've felt accomplished, and in some small ways, I did. Still, there was a piece of me, a small space which grew as each day passed where no writing occurred where it felt like a little part of Margo had faded away. Something simply felt off, tense, and sad.
I think part of being a writer is the sense that you aren't yourself unless there is a pen in your hand or a keyboard beneath your ever-eager fingertips, restless to get the words out that keep pushing on the sides of your mind, begging to be put down in a near-tangible form. It is such a dance, being a writer, some days you loathe to write and others you loathe to stop. Perhaps if you're a "new" writer such as myself, this dance can too be painful when your toes are repeatedly stepped on by the sting of rejection, along with the two-left-feet sensation of believing that you'll never be enough. As writers, maybe we simply need to find ourselves a pair of steel-toed boots and continue to dance anyway, because I doubt many authors ever got to say they were published by walking off the dancefloor mid-song.
I pondered these feelings for several days in between work tasks that no longer held any sort of passion or purpose for me. Finally, I came to the realization that having all of these thoughts, sensations, and words pleading to become visible on a piece of paper in all actuality did make me a writer, unpublished or otherwise. A writing unpublished writer. An author of words seen, unseen, down on paper, and in the recesses of my mind. An author of the words I know, have made notes of that are stored away in a binder, and the ones that belong to me that I haven't even thought of yet. I, Margo, am a writer.
And so, after nearly a week of ignoring my love for writing, I decided I wasn't done yet. I never wanted to be the girl who walked off the dancefloor before she ever got to the best part of the song; that would be the saddest, and shortest story I could ever write, and the only one I had no desire to pen. Thus, I'll continue to write regardless of where my name may or may not appear, irrespective of the rejections, and in spite of having the occasional feeling that I'm not good enough, I will write and write and write until the last song of the night is played from start to finish. I hope you choose to do the same...see you on the dance floor.