Fed up with rejection, Tim Stobierski quits writing, and discovers that there are some things you can’t stop doing without changing who you are.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. I kid you not. While other five year olds dreamt of becoming firefighters or astronauts or movie stars, my preoccupations fell upon the written word. There was just something so wonderful about creating characters and stories out of nothing that, from the time I was five until I went off to college, I couldn’t be found anywhere without a notebook and a pen in my hands. Writing was a compulsion. It was an integral part of how I defined myself.
And then, halfway through my first semester at UConn, after a particularly bad week in which I received twelve separate rejection letters, I quit.
This might sound like an overreaction, but to me it made perfect and logical sense. Those submissions had been of my best work; they had been fourteen years of growth and development and determination—long hours spent hunched over a keyboard instead of sleeping or hanging out with friends. And I was being told that it wasn’t good enough. Not once, not twice, but twelve times. If my best wasn’t good enough after fourteen years, it was time to move on. I was done.
I had quit plenty of other things during my life up until that point—soccer, the middle school chess team, that god-awful foray into the world of blonde highlights—but never before had quitting something left me feeling so empty. Never before had I felt so frustratingly pointless. And looking back on it now, it’s easy to see what the difference is between quitting soccer and quitting writing. Soccer I simply didn’t like. It was a chore, something that I did to make my father happy. It held no meaning for me. But writing—writing had been a part of my life for so long that it may as well have been written into my DNA at this point. Quit soccer and nothing changes. Quit writing and everything does.
Undoubtedly, it was that feeling of emptiness that forced me to bring writing back into my life. If I remember correctly, I had gotten about two months into my quitting stint before I just couldn’t hold myself back from the pen and paper any longer. Everything that I had held inside of myself for the past two months came pouring out, and it was that purging, strangely enough, that made me feel full again.
But as I finished writing everything down and looked from my notebook to the stack of rejection letters on my desk, I was hit with the same horrible pain as I felt the first time I opened all of those envelopes. Was any of this good? Did any of it mean a damn thing to anybody besides me?
And that was when I realized that I had to make a choice, once and for all: either I was going to devote myself to getting better, or I was going to give it up for good, free myself to pursue other things.
My brain decided, after two months of torture, what my gut knew from the first moment I ever picked up a pen.
In the months that followed, I kept my rejection letters close as a reminder of what I was trying to accomplish. I took the (few) helpful comments that they offered, incorporating what I could without compromising my voice. I signed up for every writing workshop that I could cram into my schedule. Above all, I kept writing—kept trying out new voices and new styles and new techniques.
And after three years of this renewed and repurposed work, I finally had my first acceptance for publication.
Two years after that—this past October—and my first book of poetry, Chronicles of a Bee Whisperer, was published by River Otter Press.
So many times in life we are forced to choose between giving up or fighting for our dreams. Sometimes we will undoubtedly give up. But in those moments that truly matter, it is important to know what we are willing to fight for—how far we are willing to go.
I was lucky. My period as a quitter invigorated me to continue down the road that I had always known I wanted to travel down. It could have easily gone the other way, and I am so very thankful that it didn’t. I’m thankful that quitting helped me to realize that if there was anything worth fighting for, it was myself.
Image credit: Drew Coffman/Flickr