Shortly after hearing that my collection THE NECESSARIES was not advancing to the final round for the Bakwin Award for Writing by a Woman, sponsored by Carolina Wren Press, I also learned that my poem was not among the winners selected for the Wandering Word sidewalk poetry contest this year. Rejection, as usual, spawns a host of anxieties.
One of them is to compare myself to last year, when a contest-winning book of short stories was published and one of my poems WAS a winner in the Wandering Words contest. I fear: uh-oh, I’m not as good as I used to be. I’ve lost something. I’m slipping.
Then I take this rejection as a sign of my ability to get this novel revised, submitted, accepted, published, and in the hands of readers. I worry this “no thanks” is a subtle “you’re not good enough.” I try to pull myself away from the brink with encouragement: Keep working. Maybe someday, you will be good enough. You’ll be the winner. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe soon.
Then I try to boost myself by saying, “Yeah, but look what you HAVE done.” Like, here’s that poem of yours from last year, now carved in stone for pedestrians in Muscatine to observe and consider. Maybe it brings a smile. Maybe it will surprise and touch somebody. Maybe it will become a touchstone for a resident who walks this sidewalk every day and when she crosses this pavement promises herself my heart is renewed—because that’s the kind of magic ritual I like to incorporate into my day.
And then, after the thoughts do their whirls and twirls and dips and swirls, they settle like birds at the place that feeds them: I come back to the page, grope my way into this place and the heads of these characters, and tell as best I can what I see and hear and feel and remember. Any everything else falls away: rejection, success, publication, criticism. There is only the story, the work at hand, to write as well as I can. In writing as in meditation: this moment is all that matters.
And that helps a lot.