A guest post to motivate, encourage, and inspire
Showing Up and Sitting Down
In the past two days I think I have received four or five email rejections from literary magazines. They seem to bunch up like that, and each “thanks but no thanks” usually calls up a momentary feeling of doom, as if I am writing something so weird or inscrutable that it will never be published. I am writing something weird and inscrutable, and the only balm for such a project is endless amounts of patience to bring it to fruition.
So: keep working. The old saw for writers–the one I tell my students–is to keep at it. Fail better. Beneath and before that “keep at it” is the question of resilience, which is the same character trait I hope to instill in my son. Resilience is seen as the new self-esteem, that ineffable quality that paves the way for eventual success and mental health.
Giving myself an “A” for effort isn’t exactly satisfying when it comes to writing, because my ego wants the immediate stroking of having done something that another person likes.
The question is how to believe in one’s soul that “A for effort” is a spiritually worthwhile goal; I was raised quite the A+ over-achiever, desperate for hope in the category of feedback from school that I might be worth something, with my eyes trained outward toward certificates and trophies and scores. Do I want that desperation for my son? Certainly not, because I know that the scores stop coming, and then you’re left with a kind of perpetual insecurity that you don’t know where you stand with anyone.
A for effort: It helps, with most things, to think of my son. I see in my mind’s eye an image of him on the football field (he’s a small kid with a massive streak of can-do) and I think of how difficult it is as a person to internalize the notion of scrappiness both on and off the athletics field. I’ve always been scrappy, but I think that’s a result of my competitiveness, and ultimately competitiveness also meant a desire to win, to beat someone else, to get some ego stroke or recognition. Usually after a reject I feel a scrappy “I’ll show them!” desire to get back to work. Again, only competitiveness, and that doesn’t soothe me for long.
As a writer, A for effort means to go back to the only thing I know that has grounded me for almost (yikes!) twenty years of writing practice, the same principle as learning a sport: if you show up for practice, you’re doing your job. Today I put in four hours of writing because my son is at his dad’s house. Most days it’s only one, and for me, one hour a day is all I can ask of myself. One hour a day is A for effort, and that is what makes me a writer: showing up.
Sonya Huber is the author of two books of creative nonfiction, Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir (2010), finalist for the ForeWord Book of the Year, and Opa Nobody (2008), shortlisted for the Saroyan Prize. She has also written a textbook, The Backwards Research Guide for Writers: Using Your Life for Reflection, Connection, and Inspiration (2011). Her work has been published in literary journals and magazines including Creative Nonfiction, Fourth Genre, Crab Orchard Review, Hotel Amerika, The Chronicle of Higher Education, the Washington Post Magazine, and Literary Mama. A former creative nonfiction editor for LM, she currently teaches in the Department of English at Fairfield University.
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