When You Don’t Get Picked for the Team: Make Your Own Team

stockton tunnel

My pitch didn’t make it through the first round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  They chose 400 pitches for my category and I didn’t make it.  The contest allows up to 10,000 entries and there are 5 categories and since the contest nearly always fills up that means 2,000 entries per category.  400 pitches are accepted per category.  That’s a lot of people who make it to round two.  A big percentage of 2,000.  And I did not make that 20%.  What does that matter?


It’s just a contest.  I know.  Contests are not how most writing careers are made.  In fact, very few writing careers are launched by contests.  But then, few writing careers are launched by your sister sending your manuscript to an agent and having it be sucked up and printed without any stacking rejection slips that authors famously must acquire.  But Stephenie Meyer’s career was launched without her even really planning on it.

I am bummed.  I’m depressed.  I’ve lost some faith.  It isn’t just the contest.  And it isn’t just the agents who rejected my queries.  It certainly isn’t just because I fail to stir up traffic for either of my blogs and have actually worked my ass off for 7 years to improve my writing and photography skills to present something worthy of public consumption.  It goes all the way back to all my failures.  All the poetry contests I didn’t win* and the submissions to journals that were rejected, plus the non-fiction book proposal that was turned down, and it seeps into all my other failed projects and jobs such as my card company and then my apron business and then my Etsy store and my costuming years and the fact that I never did become a fashion designer.

It gets worse before it gets better.  Such an epic list of failed ventures as I have includes a lot of other non-professional failures as well.  So yesterday I was dragged down into the pit where the flesh of most recent failed friendship is still rotting off the bone.  It actually failed a while ago.  In fact, it had really failed before I left McMinnville but struggled along because I did not share my hurt that one of my friends had essentially chosen to become better friends with my enemies and to leave me out of what little of her she was used to share with me.  She had already shut down my access to her online.  I didn’t share my feelings of hurt with her because I knew that if I did our friendship would be over and I would be even more alone in a town where I already felt so alone all the time that it was destroying me.

I was not wrong about that.  An incident happened that pushed me over the edge and I told her how she’d been hurting me for a long time and it was compounded by the fact that she never even noticed or cared.  After a brangle in which she let it be known that I was a horrible friend for not being honest with her and how dare I not trust her with my true feelings… she ceased all communications with me after promising not to.  It’s been months.  And only because I stupidly still cared for her friendship – that abandonment hurt me even more.

So yesterday when I was not picked for the winning-pitch team, all my hurt over not being picked in every aspect of my life overwhelmed me and I thought that maybe that’s my real calling – to be a professional LOSER.

We are never supposed to feel sorry for ourselves.  This is the wrong tack to take no matter what happens in your life.  Only losers feel sorry for themselves.

And I did feel sorry for myself.  I felt like the kid who never gets picked for the team and it’s no surprise since that’s the kid I was my entire school career.  Even the losers don’t pick me for the team.  The good news is that I don’t care if you despise me for being a sob-sister.

I thought of all the things I would have time to do if I stopped working so hard to have a career in writing.  And here is my list:

  • My family would get a whole lot more of my attention
  • My kitchen floor wouldn’t look like squatters live here
  • I would be able to cook more and cook better food
  • I would have more time to exercise with the kid and the dog
  • I could get more sewing done
  • I could spend time in the garden without sacrificing writing time or family time
  • I could do more extracurricular activities with Max  like getting involved in animal rescue
  • I could abandon my blogs and just write privately which would free up even MORE time!
  • I could do more homesteading projects like further experiments in dehydration
  • I would be able to go scouting for more foraging spots

Taking my writing seriously sucks a lot of time and energy from my life.  If you want it to be a career then you work on it all the time.  But I already work 30 hours a week for pay.  Plus I’m a mom and have a spouse and friends who deserve my attention.  Not to mention my need to do homesteading projects.  Everything in my life suffers when I focus on my writing which I’ve been doing for the past several years.  With so little evidence that I’m good enough to ever break through into the career I want – what keeps me going?

The fumes of hope.

Those of you who have read my novel and like it and thought it worthy of your time – you guys have been the source of what little hope there is for a 43 year old to break into novel writing.  And those of you who have been loyally reading my blog for years and still come to hear what I have to say – you have been a source of strength in many many ways.  So while I’m running on the fumes of hope as my career in writing continues not to flourish and I continue to work two jobs for the pay of one (which doesn’t even pay much once I’ve paid my insanely high self employment taxes) – I’m not ready to give up yet.

So I spent one day feeling sorry for myself.  If you can honestly say you never feel sorry for yourself for even a day when you are the kid no one is picking for their team – you lie both to yourself and to me.  But I will not lie to myself or you.  Think on that.  I cried and I rolled up into a ball and I indulged in my sorry-ass weakness and failure and I let myself see failed friendships with people who hurt me as proof that I’m a lame human being and obviously lame human beings don’t become novelists** and I wanted people who hurt me and didn’t pick me to hurt too and instead of that I had some beer (and not even tons of it, mind you) and I watched some silly shows and woke up knowing that I can’t stop trying to make it as a novelist because I’ve been working at this my whole life.  I can’t stop because writing is indistinguishable from SELF for me.  It isn’t something I choose to do to wile away my spare time.  I need to do it and I will do it every day until I die.

But I want to get paid to do it so I can stop working two jobs.  I want to get paid to write because while I will write whether I get paid for it or not – it is really important to me that I spend the rest of my life doing it and working an almost full time job while writing full time is super draining.  I need to get paid to write because if I don’t get paid I will never have enough time for it.  My ambition to be a writer is not frivolous or a self indulgence.

I write because I have a lot to say that I want people to HEAR.  I have contributions to make to our culture and to people outside my social sphere.  It’s noble to say that one does something for altruistic reasons and that money doesn’t matter but no one respects a writer who isn’t getting paid to write.  That’s the truth whether you like it or not.  I will amend that to say that most of us unpublished writers respect each other as real writers and take each other seriously and there are some published writers who respect the unpublished ones – but the public does not see you as anything more than a hobbyist until you are making your living writing.  Generally neither do your friends and family.  They WANT you to succeed but just because you’ve written a novel doesn’t make you a novelist until it’s literally in the hands of the public and they are buying your work.

So today I don’t feel sorry for myself any more.  I needed to cry over my failures.  I’m human.  I’m going to end this post with a list of  those who picked for their team, so to speak:

  • Philip picked ME.  Above all other things I am incredibly fortunate that such a good man chose ME to be his partner in life and crime.  We have our ups and downs, as is normal, but after 20 years he is still daily choosing me.  I am super fortunate and I love him.
  • Max picked me.  Every day the kid keeps picking me.  I know he’s almost a teen and things may drastically change but he tells me all the time how glad he is that he got me for a mom and not all those other moms that criticize him for who he is and pick on him for his otherness.
  • I have many friends who have stuck with me through thick and thin for years and years.  My oldest friend is someone I’ve been friends with for 29 years.  My two super close friends here in Santa Rosa have been loyal and fun for 22 and 12 years respectively.  My other two sets of friends who I love so much have stuck with me through the worst years of my life – 7 and 6 years now.  There are more.  I am so lucky to have so many people who care about me.  So many more than I can list here.  THEY ALL CHOSE ME FOR THEIR TEAM.***
  • I was chosen for my job by a friend who thought I would be good at it.  And then her bosses chose me too.  While I definitely will leave my job for a paid writing career (whenever that may be) – I am so fortunate to have my job with BlogHer and the team of people I work with are awesome.
  • My animals chose me too.  They did.  We picked Chick because she picked ME – whenever I came to visit her litter of siblings it was she who always came to fall asleep in my lap again and again.  Pippa and Penny also chose me.  When Pippa met me she climbed up on my shoulder and started purring and Penny glued herself to my side.

 It’s clear that when I say that no one picks me for their team – it’s patently untrue.  It’s an old tape I play when I’m down.  It’s a lie I used to believe and it has no power but when I’ve had a set back.  Today is a new day.  Today I am thinking of all my successes with relationships (friendships, spouse, mother, employee) and I’m thinking of all the times people have read my blog and said how I helped them feel less alone or I cheered them up or fired them up – all the times my writing has impacted other people’s lives for the better.  That is what gives value to all the hours I dedicate to writing.  I have things to say that some people out there need to hear me say.  Every time someone tells me that my writing has been a good part of their day – that is me being a successful writer.  That’s what I’m focusing on today.

On recognizing and being thankful for all the people who keep me buoyed up, who are cheering me on, who are picking me for their teams, who have taken the time to tell me when I have done something worthy of them – and my thankfulness does not lie in having my ego stroked but having my purpose strengthened.

Lastly – I am thinking about how right I was to pick you all for MY team.

*I did once win a poetry contest in which there were three contestants.  I won first place.  But no one respects contests that only people you know entered.

**There are a lot of assholes who are great writers.

***WTF McMinnville?!  What was that all about?  Everywhere else I’ve lived I’ve made lasting, meaningful, and mutually satisfying and strong friendships.  While I’ve taken personal responsibility for my part in our failed dealings – none of you have – none of you.  So I say goodbye to the last hurt anyone in that place can cause me.  Pffffft!  Done.


  1. NM says:

    Hey there, stranger. I pick you, too, because you’re awesome.
    Sorry to have fallen off the edge of the earth lately. Have a very old dog now dying of cancer, and I’ve retreated into a little cocoon for awhile, because I am very, very tired and rather sad, and can’t focus on anything outside it right now. But you are never forgotten, and I miss you.

  2. NM says:

    Oh, and here’s one of my favorite quotes, ever. She’s talking about being afraid, given the awful state of things — but it’s also about feeling sorry for oneself. I often think about it during my own moments — Ok, lots of moments — of self-pity.
    “Now I do not come from one of those religous faiths where you put aside the lesser emotions like fear and selfishness – in fact, as far as I can tell, the right to whine is a sacrament in Judaism. So I’d hardly be the person to tell anyone “don’t be afraid.” Instead, I suggest we all be afraid – that isn’t pathological, it is appopriate and reasonable. Nor do I suggest any of us fail to whine about it as much as possible – that, after all, is what the internet is for, collective whinging. We might as well take advantage of the technology while we’ve got it.
    But let us whine while we hammer, moan while we cook, sigh in outrage while we write and march and yell and build and fight our fear with good work and the pretense that maybe we’ll become better people while we’re pretending that we already are. There’s too damned much to do to do it any other way.”

  3. angelina says:

    I’ve been thinking about you and figuring I better check in with you soon to see what you’re up to. I’m so sad about your dog!! Which one is it? That’s such a hard thing to go through and it seems like just yesterday that you were going through it with your other dog. I miss you and hearing all about your homesteading adventures! But when you need to hide away – it’s okay. You are never forgotten and happily you are one of the best people I wish I hadn’t had to move away from (hey – a teleportation device for the budget minded would be super handy!). I LOVE that quote!! Do you know who said that? Totally made me laugh and it’s a philosophy I totally get behind. Lots of love to you and to your whole house full of loved ones. Including Rick. haha!

  4. NM says:

    Yeah, why hasn’t someone invented a teleporter, yet?
    It’s my Beans dog; the black collie. Our Lucy died three years ago, and it does seem too recently. But that’s connected; she and Beans were best buddies, and he really started showing his age after she died. He’s 15 now; very old, for a big dog.
    The quote is from a writer named Sharon Astyk; she writes a blog called Casaubon’s Book, about peak oil and other doomy subjects. It’s really good; her focus is on living well at a much less resource-intensive level.
    Thank you for the kind words. Love to all you, too.

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