Forever Dead · Writing

On subjectivity in art (or why being an artist can suck)


Last Monday, I received five rejection letters for five different short stories. Did that hurt? Worse than a bikini wax. Last Monday was the kind of day where all I felt capable of doing was banging my head against my desk until, thankfully, I lost consciousness and woke up Tuesday.

Thursday, I got two different emails. The first came at 10:02 AM from the Maricopa Community Colleges District Writing Competition to inform me: “We received the judges’ results, and we are proud to share that you were selected as the 2nd Place Winner in the Essay category! Congratulations!”

At 10:25 AM, I received the following email from the Maricopa Community Colleges District Writing Competition: “We received the judges’ results, and we are proud to share that you were selected as the 2nd Place Winner in the Fiction category! Congratulations!”

Let me tell you a story.

In regards to the Essay category, I won for a piece of flash fiction entitled “Dead of Winter” that I previously read the day after my grandma died at a poetry slam. I will not be modest; I kicked the shit out of that poetry slam. I basically slit my wrist in front of over a hundred people and said, “Look! This is my blood! Drink it in!” I thought I would at least place in the contest; I didn’t, and I left frustrated, disillusioned, and oh, yeah, my grandma was dead.

In regards to the Fiction category (an avant garde second-person story called “A Man of Light and Scales”), it was among the five rejected pieces of the aforementioned dreaded Monday. Now, it is the 2nd place winner in a huge competition.

It’s too obvious for me to state the obvious, but here goes: artistic preference is completely subjective.

I learned this on a more practical level when we sold our house last year. Every time we had a showing, I cleaned the entire 2800 square foot monstrosity. I lit candles. I baked cookies, and I don’t effing bake. Still, no offers. For months, no offers, and it was like a lightning bolt exploded in my brain: “OH! It’s not about me or my house. It’s about what someone else prefers.”

It has taken me thirty-two years to become comfortable with rejection. Does it suck to be rejected? Yeah. I sent out a short story today, for instance, and the editor set some kind of record with an immediate response of “Not for me.” Talk about efficiency! But “not for me” is key. Rejection doesn’t mean I suck. It doesn’t mean my work sucks. It means my work is “not for you,” which is fine because it is “for me.”

In a recent interview about my newly published short story FOREVER DEAD, I admitted: “I write for myself. I write stories that either exorcise my personal demons (of which there are many) or stories that turn me on.” I’m becoming more and more unapologetic about not fulfilling your needs. I write to fix myself.

As the last week has proved, all art requires the right audience. I am rejected; I am embraced. That is life. Stop taking it so personally. Or, as my friend Tiffany Brown reminds me, “Whisky, rinse, write, repeat.”

Photo credit: bajingan bermoral / Flickr

2 thoughts on “On subjectivity in art (or why being an artist can suck)

  1. BIG congrats on your MCCCD contest win(s) Sara!

    how many students attend MCCCD — 300K? whatever that figures out to, they are about equal to the chances of getting published today.

    keep writing — IN SPITE of the odds!

  2. Congrats on your wins!

    Rejection is kind of a two-edged sword. On the one hand, you want to say, “don’t take it personally; it’s all subjective. Just keep swimming!” But on the other hand, what if you keep getting rejected because you suck? This is the creator’s burden 😦 Either way, you can’t let it get you down. You have to both keep going and keep improving. Like I tell my students in my writing classes, we can all always improve, even your teachers 🙂

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