By My Teeth

When I first decided that I would be a writer, I belonged to a community of other young people who wanted to be writers. We were an little tribe of creators, talking endlessly about stories, our own, stories we’ve read, and our dreams of stories to come.

Most of these people were objectively better than I am. I’m not saying that to be down on myself, or to force you into a compliment, I mean that honestly. They had more raw talent. Their words were far more captivating, eloquent, cohesive, beautiful.

Life brings a thousand choices. Every day we wonder what to wear, what we’ll do that day, how we’ll do it. We decide to write or not to write, to create or to consume, to move an agonizingly slow step forward on our dreams or to set them aside.

One by one each member of this little community fell to life.  Illness, family obligations, the nine to five drag, the change in dreams, and the realization that this is so much harder than we thought it would be. The choice to go out and see friends rather than stay in and write. The choice to get a job that pays well, rather than to struggle in a job that gives more time than money. A thousand little choices.

I am a woman with a book, a woman who has been published in magazines, a woman with an award, a woman with completed stories not because I was better, but because I was persistent. I hung on past the time when life demanded that I let go. I wrote on the backs of receipts when I was waiting in line. I wrote when I was bored. I wrote when I was tired. I wrote when I lost my job. I wrote when I was in labor with my son. I hung on by my teeth, past the point of reason.

I was once in a writing class with an incredibly talented young woman. She would read stories that felt incredibly real, that would take me out of the critical editing head I usually sat in during a workshop and into her world. It was during that class that I got one small story published. I told my professor about it and this young woman overheard.

“I could never submit my stuff,” she said, “I’m just not good enough yet.”

It surprised me to hear, because she was so much better than me, leagues better, worlds better. The difference between us is that I know I’m not good enough, but I never let that stop me.

6 thoughts on “By My Teeth

  1. Very nice, J.R. I definitely sympathise. One of my writer friends in Japan once gave me the best writing advice I’ve ever had, and which I always fall back on: getting published is 10% writing talent, and 90% sheer bloodymindedness. But I think I’ll jot down your “I know I’m not good enough, but I never let that stop me”. Spot on. 🙂

  2. It’s awesome that you did so much and kept on going.

    I hope you don’t judge those of us who don’t, or haven’t yet. It takes a lot to go through it, and for me, I had to put a lot of the things I want to do off because of my health. I need to make more money to pay for healthcare. It’s a ridiculous cycle, and while I hope to break out of it someday, until recently the mere concept of submitting my work was terrifying. I went through a lot of emotional abuse growing up, and while I was praised for doing well, it was never quite good enough – and that’s what always worried me. I knew how talented everyone around me was, and I wasn’t as good as them. I’m still not. But, I finally just had a spur of the moment, and submitted my work anyway. Some of it got rejected within moments. Some of it got rejected after a while. One thing finally got accepted! And then it was back to rejections. It’s tough, and it’s exhausting, and I know a lot of people who still won’t submit their work because it’s so discouraging, or because they feel like there are people out there whose work is better.

    But, at least you can really serve as an inspiration: for people to keep going, keep pushing.

    • I certainly do not judge the people who chose or who had to do other things. Some people I know became hairdressers or teachers and those are valuable occupations.

      I know that there are many people out there who are better than I am. I know I will get rejected again and again for a variety of reasons – among which can be anything from “Doesn’t fit in our next issue because your story is about clowns and our next issue is about dolphins” to “you are just not talented enough to be in our magazine”.

      All I know is that I’ve been rejected quite a bit, but it was because I submitted the next thing, because I didn’t say no to myself, that eventually someone said yes.

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