I spent the better part of last semester pulling my hair out over grad school applications. I spent countless hours with my head bent over teeny scraps of paper, paper that had once been 8 pages of my writing sample but had been subjected to the old-school cut-and-paste method. I anguished over my personal statement for weeks. I triple-checked each application before it was sent out. I was confident that I’d be accepted into at least a couple of MFA programs.
I just got my third rejection letter this morning.
I’m probably not as upset as I should be. I imagined myself crying over each and every rejection letter that came in, or using those letters as an excuse to consume disgusting quantities of Cherry Garcia in one sitting. But really, I’m good. I will admit that the anxiety of waiting for two more schools to give me an answer is slowly killing me though. I mean, if you’re going to rip the band-aid off, might as well do it quickly, right?
I haven’t come to a point yet in my writing career where I’m getting this many rejections in such a short span of time, but I know that kind of life is on the horizon for me. In the next few months I’ll be submitting at least five different pieces to various magazines, and I’m not naive enough to believe that all of them will be chosen for publication. I’m going to be more of a reject than a winner, at least for awhile, and I don’t mind belonging to the rejects corner. I have a lot to learn still, and not everyone is going to be okay with the kind of things I write. Besides, I think that finally being accepted somewhere will feel ten times sweeter after a wave of “nos” right?
People underestimate the draining powers of the grad school application. I’ve known for years that I wanted to get my MFA in fiction. I started preparing for this process way back in June 2013, with the intention of spending my entire summer working on perfecting the stories I would use for my writing sample. I would create the perfect personal statement within that time as well, the one that would blow away each and every person reading it.
But we know that none of that actually happened. I was scrambling to complete a shoddy 500 word personal statement this past Sunday and submitting writing samples that are nowhere near done (at least by my standards). I’m not lazy, I promise. I don’t wait until the very last minute to do anything important either. But honestly, even if I finished everything three months ago, would I still have been happy with it? Probably not.
I dragged my feet for so long because I was so worried about pleasing complete strangers. While I was doing these applications, I lost focus on the real reason why I was going through this process and spending a crap-ton of money on applications in the first place. I wanted 24 perfect pages, pages that could be immediately submitted to literary magazines around the country for publication. But I wasn’t writing for myself, and you can only come up with the good stuff when you’re doing it for you. So instead of writing, I sat there worrying about having the perfect plot, the perfect sentence, the perfect imagery, and all of the other stuff that doesn’t matter anyway, because my heart wasn’t in what I was doing the way it should have been. I put too much pressure on myself, which might hurt me in the end.
Either way, I gave it my best shot, and I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my time doing this. I have one more application to submit and then I can breathe easy. Then maybe I’ll go back and rip those stories to shreds, without concerning myself with page limits or the use of excessive expletives.