I received strange news from the chiropractor today. It appears I am missing my bottom set of ribs. It’s a relatively harmless genetic quirk (my mom, apparently, is missing hers as well … who knew?) that affects some 6 percent of the population. Nobody ever even noticed my anatomical failing till now. But not to worry. I’ve got 11 perfectly healthy sets to mitigate the gap. And really, it’s only a small one.
It has been a month of coming up short, writing-wise, as well. Permit me to briefly complain?
I’ve lately made a few inroads with bigger, better-known websites and had established some very promising writerly leads for my personal essays. I’ve been trying for a few years, now, to get these published in bigger outlets, but, as is the case for so many would-be big-time writers, the results have been less than stellar. A lot of work for a lot of very politely worded “No Thank Yous.” This was, yet again, the case with my latest round of prospects, all of which have recently fallen through.
Then, just this morning, my biggest client, for whom I’ve been working on a weekly basis since I jumped the Sinking Newspaper Ship to go full-time freelance more than two years ago, fired me.
Oh, everybody’s had all sorts of encouraging feedback for me and nice things to say about my potential and my can-do attitude, but nobody seems to feel that the quality of my output is quite up to snuff, or up to style. Or both. Or either. Or whatever.
It’s not personal, I realize. It’s about creating a product that a client wants to pay you for. It’s a business transaction, calculated upon risk and reward. But being told, “No” feels … intensely personal. And sort of gutting.
Being a freelance writer means getting hired (or fired) on a daily basis, and it takes a lot of mental-emotional winding up to deal with the unpredictability of that, week after week. I’ve been doing it for 27 months, and it hasn’t gotten remarkably easier, that’s for sure. The highs are still high, and the lows are still sucking mucky pits of disappointment.
And then last night, even before I’d been fired by my big client, this thought occurred to me: am I truly willing and ready to make the (possibly decades-long) time-investment required to succeed at a career in writing? Do I have the hide for it?
I’m still not quite sure. The hopeful part of me believes that such questions are merely the mutterings of ego, that it’s normal to be discouraged, and perhaps even noble to be rejected, but absolutely unacceptable to simply give up after a few mid-season losses. The less hopeful part of me says, “No. No, I am not willing.”
The less hopeful part of me thinks maybe I should have become an acupuncturist, or a teacher, or a radio journalist instead. The less hopeful part of me wants to curl up in my office recliner and pout like I’ve never pouted before. Noisily and copiously, perhaps while smoking a cigarette or having a lunchtime drink.
I’ve done neither of those things as of yet and it’s already after 12:30 p.m., but I’ll admit it: I have definitely been pouting. There were even tears, people! As a writer, I tend to wear my feelings on my shirtsleeves. It feels brave, but like those missing ribs, it also leaves me feeling pitifully overexposed in some moments. My fawning emotionalism isn’t a personality trait I’m in a hurry to change, but it’s also not necessarily one I’d recommend that anyone interested in a creative profession cultivates intentionally.
As an editor, I tell it to my clients all the time: Develop a thicker hide. Work on yourself and on your process and push through rejections and disappointments. You just never know what’s going to hit. As a writer, I have a bit more trouble taking my own advice.
How to stave off the Pity Party when the “No Thank Yous” become rather prolific and you find you are missing something essential? Me and my 11 ribs are off to Mexico Thursday morning. I’m photographing a wedding there this weekend, and have plans to stay on for much of December. My plate has been unexpectedly cleared of some of the work I’d planned to do down there, so I suppose I’ll have plenty of time to ponder all this. In the meantime, I’m curious to know how other writers cope.