“Because I’m a good writer.” That’s what my friend said when I asked her how she avoided feeling crushed by rejection. In the first millisecond after her response, I was taken aback, and then I listened to her. She knows what she likes to read and what she likes to write. She is, in fact, an excellent, lyrical writer. And what she had to say got me thinking about my own attitudes, why I feel so ready to quit at each rejection (I will say that every writer I know gets published, and that I don’t). She knows that some people will like her words and some people won’t, that editors’ decisions are subjective, and she trusts herself to know that her work is good. If editor A doesn’t want it, there are always editors B-Z. She has gone to bat for stories that other editors at her magazine reject, and she has rejected some that her colleagues love. That’s just how it is.
I don’t think I would ever say, “I’m a good writer.” But why?
Is it because I’m not?
It’s more complicated than that. Sometimes I love what I’ve written, and sometimes I don’t. Either way, I work at it, go back over it, rewrite, edit, revise, and so on. I am not the most talented writer in the room, and I know other writers whose work makes me feel that I have a long way to go. But I know when I’ve done good work, and I know what I like to read. And I know that some people, at least, like what I produce. So why does one rejection make me feel that I’ve been fooling myself, that my friends have been lying to me, and that maybe, this time, finally, I should just stop?
My friend’s answer got me thinking about more than just writing. I needed to examine why I was taken aback–if only for a moment– by what she said. And it hit me what it was. She had the nerve, the ovaries, if you will, to just go ahead and say it. Women are not encouraged to own their talents and skills in that way. And when they do, it makes the news (see Mo’Ne Davis). Women apologize, women demure, women self-deprecate. We don’t come right out and tell people we excell at anything. Because when we do, we earn certain labels. We’re not confident, we’re conceited. We’re not bold, we’re bitches.
How we learn to think and talk about ourselves tends to be molded by another thing we’re taught; that these need to be adjusted to make others feel good, or at least to avoid making them feel bad.
This is especially galling to me now, as I am watching my own daughter’s confidence disappear. She whispers her answers in her math class, she droops her head when we review her homework, she is crushed by the smallest suggestion that something could be improved. Just a few months ago, she was so confident that she would try out for teams though she’d never played the sport. She figured if she just tried, she’d make it. She was wrong, but she was undeterred. She decided to quit guitar lessons and uses the Internet to teach herself chords. The one thing she knows she’s good at is singing, but she’s told me she doesn’t like it when her friends comment on it, because she doesn’t want them to feel bad about their own voices. And there is no battling this; no matter what we tell her about her talents and abilities, we can’t bring her confidence back. We’re hoping she just needs a change in her epilepsy medication.
The only time I’ve been brave enough to say “I do it best” is when I talk about my challah, which I bake each week. Oy. So much for feminism. Why is it so difficult, frightening, even, to feel and say I’m good at something? What a terrible shame not to feel entitled to that.