By the time you read this, I’ll have an essay up on Salon. This both feels like a very big deal, and not. When I told a friend last night over dinner, she was excited for me, but also like, “I thought you and Erin sold a script.”
It made me smile. “Next week,” I said. Selling books is apparently now old hat around here. 😉
It’s nice, though, when your friends raise the bar for you. Especially after years of wandering in a wildnerness where my friends supported me, but didn’t necessarily believe in me in that way.
Which is fair.
I come from a family of big talkers and big dreamers. My dad was in advertising and has self-published his own writing. Everything has always been about the big plan that is going to change everything.
While most of us have plans like that, the reality is that few of those plans work out. My dad’s certainly haven’t. And if we are the sort of people who talk about those plans as part of our process, we have to live with the consequences of that talk. Because if we’re publicly verbal to keep ourselves going, we become the boys who cried wolf regarding possibility. And sometimes that leads to shame.
But in the pursuit of getting the thing done sometimes you have to just tell shame — or at least certain types of shame — to fuck right off.
That Salon piece, is, in part, about something I did a long time ago that I feel shame over. It was weird and creepy. It was criminal. And it scared people, who I can’t even apologize to because any interaction with me would probably be not something they’d be into, which is totally their prerogative. Also, let’s face it, an apology would be about me and my desire for absolution and unlikely to repair any harm done to them.
Now, when I had the idea to write the essay about it, I pitched it to four outlets. The first sent me a perfectly polite rejection letter. Which I then stared at and went through a spiral over where I was embarrassed for thinking I could write for such an outlet, ashamed that I had wasted someone’s time, and felt this overwhelming sense of the whole thing being noted on my hypothetical permanent record: INAPPROPRIATE PROFESSIONAL AUDACITY was rubber stamped across the file in my head.
I felt ill and hoped no one else responded. How could I have thought my story mattered? But six hours later, Salon wrote and expressed interest and wanted to see the piece for possible purchase. I took a deep breath, wrote the thing, and had a sale the next morning.
So to recap:
The shame about what I did in high school? Justified and probably useful in helping me learn not to do things like that.
But my shame about pitching an essay somewhere that didn’t feel it was a good fit? Totally not useful. That type of shame is the shame that makes us procrastinate, not put our work out there, and judge ourselves — and others — as bad people simply for ambition.
You want to Do the thing? Then you need to look at your shame, why you have it, whether it’s useful or justified, and how you need to confront it to move towards a better place.
Got the useless type of shame you need to let go of? You know what to do in the comments.
I perhaps thought that I was the worst, weakest person ever for this kind of shame. So, hearing this from you, knowing your manner, relieves me. I cannot seem to help feeling the same way. My very first rejection had the polite but solid no (that I am sure was mass emailed). I had been wanting yes so desperately, but the harsh pain that I received was overwhelmingly embarrassment instead of disappointment over not getting published. (Which gave me more shame for not feeling cut-out for the tough process. Why should someone as delicate as me try?) It seems so irrational. I guess a lot of the issue is that I protect my identity so vigilantly, but I had to attach my real name to the project. Then it felt like I had depreciated my name, even though it did not mean anything to anyone yet.
Since then, the only advice I can offer to those similarly struggling is to push past it, if they can. No one has to know but you and an editor that shifts through hundreds of submissions and does not have time to take down names for future grudges. A no does not necessarily mean someone had no right to aim so high. A no can be given for any reason, including just not being the right fit.
Unlikely yes’s can happen and it would surely be worth the effort because you never know what might click just right with the right office.
This got stuck in our spam filter and I just found it! But yes, all of this. And you know,the hardest thing is also, I think going “Oh, well this editor said no to me, I can’t send them anything else ever” when I know tons of people who got yeses from editors who said know the first, second, and even third times!
Congratulations on selling your article!
Oh man. I work in a field, and in an institution, where the first professional commandment is Respect Your Elders–not necessarily temporal elders, but those people who have been doing “this” for a long fuckin’ time, and know much more than you. You Will Not Speak Out Of Turn. But it’s also a field, and institution, where you only get what you ask for–really, you get about 3% of what you ask for, the seventh time you ask for it. So you have to get told no, a lot, by people who have every right to tell you no, in order to ever hear a yes. You’re right to ask, they’re right to decline. For a praise-seeking perfectionist like myself, this results in a lot of unnecessary obsequiousness, over-preparation, procrastination, and avoidance.
But I’m also really very good at my job, and I sometimes step back and kick myself for how much better I could be if I’d just woman up and ask for more, speak up more, push more, insist on more. Maybe it would backfire (see the first commandment), but maybe I’m just letting opportunities slip by because I don’t want to be a bother.
If you’re not getting nos, you’re probably not going big enough. And nos completely suck, but they are also part of the process of getting yes. So go, go for more! Do the thing, and let us know how it goes! 🙂
“For a praise-seeking perfectionist like myself, this results in a lot of unnecessary obsequiousness, over-preparation, procrastination, and avoidance.”
This just explained me to myself in a new way, Nony. Thanks for that.
I definitely need to get better at confronting and examining my shame. It’s distressingly easy to just slide right into doing something mindless and waste the day away. It’s particularly tricky because there are no external forces to keep me in check. Put me on a team, give me responsibilities, I’m golden, but when it’s just me myself and I alone in the world with endless possibilities I struggle to myself on track. I voluntarily quit my last job (it allowed me to save up but was a professional black hole) and even though I know I made this choice for good reasons, and that it’s nothing to be ashamed of, the idea of reaching out to people in my industry for opportunities makes my brain run and hide. I’ve seen people do it on twitter, it can absolutely have results, and I’ve never seen anyone say anything negative, but I think I internalized a lot of shame from the last job that’s clinging more than I expected… For 2.5yrs I never wanted to tell anyone what I did, and now that I’m actively taking steps to move forward I still can’t shake the feeling that putting myself out there to people I know in the industry but am not close to will only reveal how poor my skills and portfolio are. And that I’ve let too much time go past since I quit so that doing it now looks even more pathetic, because geeze, why didn’t she do it sooner?! Brains, dammit. Sometimes they are such a pain.
Go you for starting the Thing!
Networking is a powerful and totally valid tool. A terrifying one (oh god don’t make me talk to people), but an incredibly useful one. There’s no shame in it at all. In fact, putting yourself out there shows that you want the Thing, and are capable of taking steps to get the Thing. Win!
If you have trouble keeping yourself on track, make a list. Write down what you want, and then what you need to get it — it sounds like you have a good handle on that already. Make yourself a schedule, and then Do the Things! It is NEVER too late.