It has been said that, for bears, winter is just one night. For, oh, sixteen years I hid from winter . . . and the bears. (Not the real grizzlies, those I go looking for.) But the inner bears. The bears that claw and gnash their teeth in my brain. They are the writers.
One is lazy and sweet and wants to do nothing except read and think about, I don't know, Kierkegaard or Lizzo's recent success. The other (the one on the right) is a driven nightmare. Nothing is enough for her. She grunts and pushes and shoves. Write more, find more contests, submit, submit, submit.
She's the bear I need.
And the one I hate.
Tied to this bear is my sense of accomplishment and it’s always hungry. This is perplexing to me because over the last year I have had successes which were, ironically, bound tight to the level of failure I was willing to endure.
Last August I set the goal for myself to receive at least 100 rejections in one year. I hoped this would accomplish two things. One, that it would toughen me up so that rejection didn’t bother me as much. Two, that I would accidentally have some acceptances along the way.
I started to think of rejection as a muscle deep in my psyche that I had to exercise and build. If I could make my rejection muscle strong, then, maybe, I wouldn’t take it so personally when an editor passed on my personal essay. (My guess is that memoirists, the most personal of all writers, tend to take things more to heart. Our rejection muscle is weaker to start with.)
When I sent those first essays, the rejections did come. The bear had messed with a bee hive and she was stung. Repeatedly. But the bear got some honey too. On August 30th, I logged in to Submittable to see my first acceptance. And then, on August 31st, I woke up to my find second. And then there were more rejections. And then more.
By the end of 2018 I had 38 rejections. (Some of them hurt much worse than others.) But I also had nine acceptances. Now, a year later I’ve had thirteen acceptances in total with 70 “no thank yous” and counting. (And what does it say about me that I feel deep shame in not being rejected exactly 100 times?) But I will say that the rejection muscle indeed feels stronger. But the deep void of accomplishment is vast.
It isn’t enough for me.
The damn bear wants more.
I belong to several Facebook groups specific to women writers. These are very helpful and supportive groups where writers answer questions for one another and share their successes and failures. Their successes make me see that I have a long way to go in order to consider myself an accomplished writer.
My "don’ts" add up. I don’t have an agent, I don’t have a byline in the New York Times. I don’t even have a manuscript that’s ready to send to an agent—I thought I would by now. These are the darkest and coldest times until I remember that winter is just one night.
This bear has a lot more fight left in her now that her muscles are strong.