Transferring life’s lessons to the writing submission process

I avoid risk.
I have low self-efficacy.
I settle for the expected far too often.
And I am a writer.

Steep rejection rates are unavoidable and unremarkable for even the most polished writers. A quick search brings no shortage of advice on the subject from “how to get your pitch noticed” to “how to deal with the continual rejection.” Nonetheless, statistics don’t dull the sting of the repeated submit-anticipate-hope-rejection arc.

I don’t suggest that numbness is desirable; I assert the opposite. That said, I am new to the game, but there is something to be gleaned from the quickening of a novice.

As a child, I was first drawn to writing through journaling, then moved to creative efforts such as short stories and poetry. Of course, this was before I came to fear vulnerability. Sharing was comfortable without a history of comparison or failure. In my climb through adolescence, anxiety and depression coaxed me into innocuous ambiguity. Journaling remained a source of comfort throughout my struggle. Even so, I withdrew my goal of professional writing, despite my Communications degree, as the cost of rejection was too steep.

At age 35, my insipid trajectory unraveled in three chapters, an unlikely trilogy of growth and becoming as an adult. Through athletic competition, I grew endurance. Through coming out, I grew resilience. Through founding my business, I grew confidence. Through it all, I rediscovered my voice and began sharing stories online.

My original blog started as an outlet where I tested the waters of vulnerability in newfound courage. Much like my first attempt at running, I was a self-coached adult, relying on latent skills. With each successive publish, my words went live, and I acclimated to the progressive overload by steadily increasing exposure.

Each day, I clicked refresh to reach disappointing stats; the majority of my minuscule readership were friends and family. It seemed no one cared about my content, but I kept logging the miles.

Eventually, I decided to register for more risk, putting myself on the line in an organized competition.

Surprisingly, I reached the podium in my first race, albeit a modest event. An editor read my words, deemed them acceptable, and published my opinion column in the local newspaper. The taste of success tempted me with possibilities in the untapped stores of a girl who usually quit when confronted with a challenge. I was almost ready to call myself a writer when rejections flooded my ambition.

I settle for the expected far too often. And I am a writer — an ambition also attached to a lofty goal; a dream held so tightly that I only shared it with one person, a dream to author a memoir. My wife was the sole keeper of this secret; it felt embarrassing to purport such fantasy. How could I possibly write a book when I hadn’t even been able to publish more than one essay? Unsure of how to improve and move to the next level, I decided to hire a coach.

I found GrubStreet and my introduction to the workshop process in a class called “Jump Start Your Memoir.” Typically, submission required clicking a button; the readers who would assess my pieces were abstract. Often, rejection came without regard, in the absence of a response. Here, my classmates received printed drafts of my most intimate project. Real people took my pages home to read and consider. This was no local 5k; I had signed up for a marathon.

The lump in my throat threatened to choke me as I sent my first chapter for printing. Race day jitters arrived. The starting cannon blew, and I shared my secret, one copy for each in the group. It was time to settle into my pace, hit my stride, and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Like a quality coach, the teacher set an approachable tone and held me accountable, attaching deadlines, and stretching my skills. While she scheduled the practices, if I wanted to maximize growth, it was my responsibility to follow through with the workouts and embrace the challenge in existing outside of my comfort zone. When it was my turn to listen, with a hard swallow, I toed the line. When it was my turn to talk, with heart rattling my rib cage, I contributed to the conversation — all the while supported by this team’s exceptional camaraderie.

To date, the first draft of my memoir is a work in progress. I own a single digit success rate for published essays, just three pieces to be exact, opinion columns published in that same local newspaper. Still, having my work accepted by an editor feels much like crossing a finish line, a worthy recognition of a consistent, concerted effort to improve at this craft.

When I was first learning to compete as a runner, my stomach would flip wildly in the hours before my event. I wondered if, with experience, this would lessen or vanish. I saw it as a problem that needed fixing. My coach heard this concern and offered his perspective. “Nerves mean that you are invested, and you care,” he told me. While he suggested methods to prevent this from overwhelming my energy, he proposed that I view my butterflies as an ally, validating my commitment.

The fear remains, the sting of rejection just as biting. In affording myself the title of writer, my hand acts separately from my body, defying the protective reflex to flee with each click to submit, publish, or send, and recognizing the part of me that refuses to settle. The part of me that’s committed to improvement. The part of me that wishes I had stuck with it in college but realizes that it is not too late.

The part of me that is a writer.