It’s easy to paint my writing career as a failure.
I’m nearly thirty, and haven’t had a novel traditionally published. Some of my poetry has been picked up by journals, but not nearly as much as my peers. My chapbook, The Legacy Her Body Built, hasn’t been picked up despite smatterings of interest.
But all of that is such a simplification of the last twelve years. It doesn’t account for disability or mental health or life or any of my other goals. It doesn’t account for the hours I’ve spent nurturing my relationship with my partner and family. It doesn’t account for the years I spent in higher ed or my master’s degree or professional career.
When I was in my early twenties, I felt such pressure to exceed expectation, to affirm my own prodigy. I attached publication and accolade to my definition of success, and when neither materialized (mostly because I wasn’t submitting and sometimes not even writing in any disciplined fashion), I condemned myself to a life of could have been.
Now that I am a bit older, and have found a community that accepts and respects me, I feel somewhat relieved of that pressure. Sure, I still want publication and a career as a writer — in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted them more — but that want feels more like drive, now, like I can see how to make this a reality and am ready to embark on this journey, however fraught it might be.
Self-forgiveness is like a muscle — in need of exercise, practice, training. I have to actively respect my limitations, rewrite my self-talk, see the bigger picture. It was only when I embraced a holistic view of myself, one that incorporated my disability, mental health, relationships, goals, and needs, that I felt capable of enduring the rejection that comes with any sort of artistic life.
I will still have days when I am convinced that I am not good enough, never will be good enough. But hopefully I know better now how to move through self-doubt without letting it drag me into oblivion.