We’ve all familiar with the story of the nerdy girl who musters up the courage to ask the most popular guy in school (whom she’s tutoring) to the Sadie Hawkins Dance, right before he places his hunky football player arms around his new girlfriend, Jessica, in the hallway
We see the look on her face when she discovers they’re together. We feel her pained disappointment and mumble a heartfelt “aww” as she recounts the story to her equally nerdy best friend. She thought he stood a chance—albeit a thin one—when in reality Chance was like, “nah, girl, sit down.”
I’ve experienced this type of rejection at numerous points in my writing career, particularly when I applied for a newly established writing fellowship for women of color last year. Initially I had decided not to apply because I didn’t think my application would be competitive, but after my writer friend Jodi encouraged me to apply, I decided to go for it, being the DREAM BIG writer that I sometimes am, even though I knew that my chances were slim to none.
While you might be thinking, “Well, what did you have to lose, Chanté?”
Actually, a lot.
Time is one of the greatest commodities freelancers have, so preparing an application would take TIME, like several, several hours. And since the program was a writing fellowship, my answers would have to be stellar to stand a chance, which meant additional hours honing them.
Plus, I’d have to secure letters of recommendation, which would involve selecting the recommenders, asking for the recommendations, and following up (gently but firmly) to make sure that they were submitted before the deadline. Time spent applying for the fellowship was time not spent marketing my writing services to secure income.
I spent days crafting a short book proposal, writing sample, bio, and list of awards.
I was not selected.
When I saw the fellowship recipients, I felt like a goldfish trying to swim alongside orca whales in the Pacific Ocean. This is a flawed comparison of course, because:
1. goldfish live in fresh water while orca live in oceans, and
2. I’m more of a striped dolphin than a goldfish, but you get how I felt.
The fellowship recipients were published authors or writers on the brink of publishing their first books, folks who had already received acclaim in the literary community, many with legions of followers. I was not like them at all.
I was embarrassed I had applied. Did the readers laugh when they read my application? Did they think “Poor girl thought she had a chance.”
Perhaps. Or perhaps they didn’t even read my entire application because the first 5 lines indicated what I know now—I wasn’t competitive.
I wasn’t as prolific as these women, as experienced, as well-read. These are facts, not opinions. I didn’t stand a chance with Hulk Hottie. I recounted the story to Jodi and my other writing buddies. They agreed that the competition was stiff, really stiff. They helped me nurse my wounds.
They helped me then, like they help me now—to keep studying great writing, to continue practicing my craft, to not stop publishing articles.
Weekly, even daily, I am morphing from reluctant applicant to smoking McHottie: published author and fellowship recipient.
In the meantime, I write through, past, and in spite of rejection. It’s all I know to do. All I want to do.
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