Last week I was aiming, hoping and aspiring. My inner dreamer was wide-awake and I was willing to follow her for a change. In one week I submitted applications for two big dreams I’ve been harboring. Frankly I’m exhausted, but there is a quiet satisfaction in my weariness. I applied for graduate school at USC Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism. I have my fingers crossed on that one, and I still can’t believe I did it. But even bigger news than that is I applied for a Los Angeles literary fellowship program for new writers that could launch a professional writing career. These were not easy endeavors. The application process for both was lengthy, time-consuming and stressful. But my most difficult obstacle is overcoming my greatest enemy, myself.
Believe it or not the fellowship was harder for me to apply for than grad school because I am familiar with the world of academia. If you put all my years of school together I think I’m in like 20th grade or something. I was successful last time I was a graduate student and will be again should I be admitted.
On the other hand the fellowship for writers, well that one scares me. I was so afraid in fact that I sat on the link for the application for three months. A week before it was due I glanced at it and found that the application was not just a form. I needed to answer nine short essay questions, collect twenty pages of writing samples, obtain a summary of my tax returns from last year, and get two compelling letters of recommendations. My inner critic immediately piped up, and these are some of the things she said:
- Drop this idea, it’s too much work.
- You procrastinated all summer and now you wont have time to get this all together.
- You don’t know anyone who will write you letters of recommendation on this short of notice.
- You don’t have writing samples. You’re an essayist. 20 pages is like 5 essays… Um, do blog posts count?
- You’re not good enough.
- You aren’t going to get it.
She was right about all of that and I really did want to give up! But here’s the thing, if you never try, the answer is always no, and you can’t really argue with that logic either. In my life I haven’t taken many risks. In fact I over think EVERYTHING!! I think this is some subconscious thing we do as humans to protect ourselves from disappointment and heartbreak. Sadly, I decide the answer is NO probably too often. I haven’t really taken a risk in a way that really mattered to me since… um yeah, I can’t remember when, which is my point here. Realizing this, it became important to me to try for this fellowship.
I chose twenty pages worth of my favorite short stories and essays and spent the next three days editing my work. I stayed up past 2 a.m. answering and editing those short essay questions for three nights. I called my tax guy and when he didn’t call me back, I just made copies of my W2s and hoped that was enough. I asked my dear writing teacher and a good friend who is a journalist to write me letters and they did, same day. Once I had all the parts of the application, I had to make five copies of this huge packet! Just putting the packets together took me hours but eventually, I got it all together and sent it overnight mail on the day of the deadline. How’s that for cutting it close? Yesterday I received a post card notifying me that they had received my package.
Winners will be notified in October. I hope I am chosen, but if I am not, I feel like the lesson for me here is that I tried. I didn’t listen to my inner critic who I believed was right. By finishing I proved to myself that my critic doesn’t always tell the truth. Perhaps next time she pipes up, I’ll remember this lesson. It wasn’t easy but I did it! And even though there is still a part of me that feels like my essays are silly and not polished enough, I submitted them anyway. I’m surrendering and I’m going to let someone else give me an answer for a change.
It’s like Steven Pressfield says in his book The War of Art. I’m adlibbing here and I hope I get this right, but he says something like when you fail it is actually a win because it means you are putting yourself out there which is what makes you an artist. Getting rejected means you are trying. You are showing your work. It’s easy to sit safely on the sidelines and never get rejected, but there is a price for that too. To actually feel disappointment and get dismissed over something you created, well, that means you’re an artist, and by the way congratulations! You are actually in the game! Thanks Steven Pressfield :-)
I follow this blog that features interviews with various writers. Every writer answers the same five questions. Their answers are inspiring, artistic, and even juicy sometimes. Today the featured writer was a poet named Juliana Gray. Even her name sounds like poetry right? Anyway, I loved her answer to question number five. It was exactly what I needed to hear and wanted to share it with you writers, artists and dreamers out there.
What would you say in a short letter to an aspiring writer?
Dear Aspiring Writer: I hope you’re prepared to fail. In the meantime, read everything you can get your hands on. Have opinions about it. Write lots. Imitate the ones you love. Listen to your teachers. Know that improving means changing. And keep writing. xoxo, Juliana.