Words by Lydia (they/she), 21 VIC
With the job of a writer comes the challenge of rejection that you must overcome again and again and again… and again. I feel most like a writer when I have received a rejection, which I experienced just now. It was for an opportunity that I was really determined to achieve, one I had worked very hard towards. One I let myself hope and even dream would work out. I knew I probably wouldn’t get it, but it still stung when the email subject lit up my phone. Like being uninvited to a party for which I had just finished getting ready.
I am currently waiting for answers on five applications, which will become six once I finish writing this and send it off into the world. Those unanswered applications are physical now. I feel the weight of them in the tightness in my shoulders and a familiar twist in my stomach.
Every now and then, I feel like I am forgetting something. I remember the things that I have sent out to competitions, residencies, and potential employers, and for a moment, I wish so deeply to hear where they’ve landed. I want a postcard from the stories that are waiting on editors’ desks. Or a text from a job application, telling me it is safe and sound warming up someone’s inbox. I want to know where I stand in all these lines and how much longer I’ll have to hang in limbo.
It never used to feel quite like this. I never let my hopes rise too high. Hearing anything back can be a delightful surprise when you set the bar low enough. Expect little and nothing will be disappointing.
Except, of course, it was heartbreaking. Every time. I just didn’t let myself feel it properly. The email would pop up – rejections are always emails, never calls – and a hollowness would ache in my chest for a moment before I’d swallow it down.
But I can’t do that now. I let myself get my hopes up. I need to. There are so many terrible things in this world, and I fear that expecting so little of my efforts was adding to my own anxieties. Why not let this application be something positive to hope for? Why not wish that this one might work out?
Sure, it hurts a lot more now when the emails inevitably ding into my inbox. And the sharp sadness is still there, months after sending something out, when I realise I never heard back at all. But I can’t let myself be shielded from that pain. If I tried to dull my sense of expectation, my flicker of hope, what might happen when I finally get a win? I want to feel that. I want to make the disappointment worth it. And a writer – or a person of any kind – who shields themself from rejection also turns down chances before they can appear.
So, here I am spending the night licking my wounds and allowing the sadness to wash over me, letting it fill the dark part of myself that knew this would happen. And tomorrow, when the feeling has faded a little, I will get up and sit at my desk and keep tapping away at the next thing. That is my job, as a writer, to keep pushing on in the face of all this doubt. The words still come, and the story still needs to be told. If we let the fear of rejection stifle us, nothing scary would ever happen. No one would apply for their dream job, no one would ask out their crush, no one would send a poem off to a literary magazine. There will always be another chance and when it arrives, I hope I remember this and take it and wish for it, no matter what might happen.
And maybe the odds aren’t in your favour – but maybe they are. You can’t know until you try. What if it all goes right?
Illustration by Aileen. You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenngstudio