Stories can build us. Stories can also break us. No stories are as strong as the ones we tell ourselves. Coming in second are the ones we heard from our guardians growing up: a mother who said you’ll never cook well, a teacher who said you were dumb, a father who just didn’t care….
I have found that we can change the stories we tell ourselves. We can arise like the mythical lion and tell the story of how the hunter wet his pants the first time he heard us roar. We can reclaim the narratives and tell stories that build us up and challenge us to be better and do better.
One of the stories that limited me growing up was the family tale of my carelessness. My mother said it, my father said it. Everyone believed it. Truth be told, I did misplace my fair share of items, but that was something I did, not who I was.
I began to take better care of my things as I grew up but the story wouldn’t change. It got to the point where each time I asked for anything, my Mom or Dad would say, “Here, I know you’ll loose it.”
I would take the said item and guard it with my life. But alas, the story would come to pass and soon the item would vanish into thin air. This kept happening, then one day I had enough.
I asked for a ring boiler and my Mom said the usual words, “Here, I know you’ll loose it.”
I replied,”No Mom, I won’t loose it. I will take good care of it and use it for as long as I want to.”
I had that ring boiler for six years.
Another story that tied me in knots as a writer was the story of rejection. Every one gets rejected, the story said. You will have to get used to getting rejected over and over again. Hey, look, Marlon James, the Man Booker 2015 Prize Winner, his first novel got rejected 78 times, by 78 publishers before it finally got a home.
So-and-So (insert name of big shot) got rejected 66 times.
The more I listened to the rejection story, the more my belly turned to stone. The thing is, I can’t stand rejection. It is bad enough that writing doesn’t pay much and is so darned hard to do, but the least I want at the end of the day is a little applause.
I want a clap on the back and a handshake. I can stomach some nicely worded affirmation padded constructive critique, but to think of someone thrashing my hard work is unthinkable.
So for months, I didn’t submit anything. I self published on my blog. I got pieces accepted through recommendations. I stayed away from the rejection story and it stayed way from me.
Until I realized it wasn’t helping my writing.
Like it or not, writing is a highly subjective business. If you don’t “put your self out there,” you’ll miss many opportunities to be seen. You have to risk the fire to get the gold.
But how do you do that without being rejected?
You change the story. This is the story I tell myself now:
Rejection in writing doesn’t exist.
There could be a match, meaning, well written story meets right publisher/audience at right time. Or a non-match, meaning either the story isn’t well written or the audience/publisher is wrong or the timing is wrong or all three.
Writing a good story is my duty, but the rest is out of my hands.
It is like donating blood. You don’t weep and wail if a patient’s blood type doesn’t match yours. You are the donor, they need you, they are the ones to wail. You just keep giving and some patient somewhere, thanks God above, and lives another day because you did.
So I am going to start working on my stories, polishing them and making them the best they can be. Then I will send them out knowing they are can’t be rejected, they are already accepted; by me and by many other people. All they need is a place to call home. I won’t worry about those non-matches, I won’t wail if it is something out of my hands. I will just keep going because to someone out there, they’ll be the sun and the sea.
Those are some of the stories that limited me and how I changed them. How about you? What stories do/did you need to change?
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