Friday, March 18, 2011

On not getting in

It's that time. Right around that time in March when people are finding out whether they got in to Clarion or not. Maybe you did get in. If so, congratulations! But, numbers being what they are, it's much more likely that you didn't. Possibly you are feeling disappointed. Maybe you are wondering whether it's worth it to keep writing. So I'll say this first:

I'm proud of you for applying. 

Seriously. Not to be all Hallmark-card about it, but what you did was brave. It took guts, and a willingness to take yourself, and your art, seriously. So I'm proud of you.

As for the "am I a writer?" "should I keep writing?" type questions that might be rolling around your head right now, well, you're really the only person who can answer them. But here's what I think.

The only thing not getting in means is that you didn't get in. It doesn't mean you aren't a writer, or that you won't be a successful writer. Pat Rothfuss? New book debuted at #1 on the NYT list? Not a Clarion grad. He seems to be doing just fine without that line on his CV. As are plenty of other writers I know, whose work and careers I respect. There were multiple people in my class who had applied and been rejected before. If you didn't get in, it's not some sort of judgement on your talent, or your potential. If you want to write, write. If you want to go to Clarion, apply again.

Rejection always sucks. Anyone who tells you differently is lying. Or a sociopath. I've had far more rejections than I've had sales, and every one of them has sucked. 

Rejection is, however, part of writing. Sorry. I mean, maybe there is some magic person out there who has sold everything she has written from the moment she sent out her first piece, but my guess is probably not. Even people who look like overnight successes had stories that didn't sell, agents that passed on manuscripts, editors who didn't buy books. Sometimes you will write something, and you won't even let it get as far as letting someone else reject it - you will know that the story is flat, and you will slide the piece into a file, put the notebook in a drawer, and trunk it.

If you want to be a writer, you have to learn to deal with rejection, because it is going to happen to you. If having someone pass on your story is too much for you to bear, if it renders you unable to pick up your pen and write the next sentence, well, it's best to know that now.

But, but... I have talent. You know what, you probably do. I could be wrong, but I'd be willing to bet that people don't get so far as applying to a writers' workshop that costs a nontrivial amount of time and money to attend without some piece of outside evidence that they do not completely fail at this whole writing stories thing. You know what, you're still in good company. I know writers who are talented who have careers that are very shiny, who applied and didn't get in. A rejection letter - from Clarion or from anywhere else - is not a referendum on your talent. It's just a rejection letter. 

And while talent, at least some, is a necessary requirement for success as a writer, it's not a sufficient one. You need a work ethic, and a willingness to make sacrifices, financial and otherwise. You need the ability to deal with rejection. You need the belief that what you're doing is important enough to keep doing it, even when it's hard. Rejection sucks, but writing matters.

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