In May, I sat in a Mexican restaurant with my writing friend, Denton during a hellacious thunderstorm. We were just across the Kentucky/Tennessee line at the Cumberland Gap, the place where my ancestors had found their way from Tennessee to Kentucky several hundred years ago. Denton, as well, has many generations of family behind him also firmly rooted to this place.
Maybe it's because of this shared heritage that when I'm with Denton, I always speak frankly.
"I just want something to stick," I heard myself saying. "This year I decided to apply for everything I could find, and I just want one thing to come through. I'm tired of rejections."
Denton nodded. As writers, we'd like to say we're accustomed to rejections, but that doesn't mean we like them. I'd just completed a mad rush of applications, all seemingly due May first. I applied for grants, fellowships, residencies, conferences and workshops. I'd sent work in for contests. I submitted a short story to several journals.
"I just want one thing to stick," I'd said.
Denton and I had both applied to the Sewanee Writers Conference, and were equally nervous about the idea of rejection.
"It never gets easier," he answered, and then it was my time to nod.
It got me thinking about how we take rejection, and how that holds us back from moving forward confidently. Do we give up after a few rejections, or do we not submit at all out of the mere thought of a rejection? What holds us back from putting our work out there?
Why apply? Why set yourself up for rejection? Here are a few things to keep in mind for those of you reluctant to put your work, or yourself, out there, on why to apply.
No one is directing your writing career except for you.
Think about it: There are no daily time clocks, no managers, and no co-workers when you are writing alone. You are the only one in charge of both your writing time and your submissions and queries. Manage your writing career as you would any other. Put in the time, do the work, then apply and submit. If you don't, who will?
Conferences and workshops can help your writing, and your writing career.
In conferences, you can work with some incredible faculty, and the quality of work from your peers is exceptional. Not only can you make new friends and mentors, but conferences swarm with agents and editors looking for quality work. How can this hurt you? I can't think of a single way. Beyond that, You'll made some amazing new friends, and the experience can enriched both your writing and your life.
Contests and publications can raise your profile.
Your platform is your body of work, and only that. A social media presence is just a presence. When talking to agents and editors, they care far more about your platform than your presence. And the more quality awards and publications you have on your resume, the better. It certainly can't hurt.
Will you get rejections? Most certainly. But when that one thing sticks, it can change your career in so many ways. And sometimes you can be surprised. The payoffs far outweigh the rejections.
For Denton and me? We were both accepted to Sewanee, and are just now finishing a tremendous near-two weeks at this inspiring conference. We could have both been rejected, and we would have moved on. Instead, because we stuck our necks out and took a tiny risk, we've just shared a week that's made us better writers, better connected, and closer friends.