What Do You Love More?

July 18, 2017 § 118 Comments

Not even her best backbend

Before I was a writer, I was an acrobat. Not the kind that flips through the air–the kind who holds up other smaller, younger acrobats who look better in the same spandex costume. A “base.”

I loved it. I loved being the one who makes sure everyone is ready, calls the move, Hup!, then adjusts while the flyer holds still. Stay straight, tight and trusting. Don’t balance yourself, let me balance you.

I loved that I could lift men bigger than me and women in acrobat class who were also bigger than me and had spent years not letting anyone lift them because they felt “too heavy.” That I could grab someone the right size and move them through a basic routine right away, as long as they did exactly what I said. I got really good at giving directions, verbal cues, nudging with my toes, letting flyers know, I got you. You can trust me. You can fly.

My last and best partner was (and is) small and beautiful and flexible enough that even circus people admire her backbend and over-splits. A pleasure to lift, a joy to try new moves with. Between shows in Canada, we stood on a stretch of lawn next to a giant parking lot and worked on a new move, one that scared her, that she’d fallen out of before. “I’ve got you,” I said. “The only thing I can’t save is if you bend forward hard and fast–there’s not enough leverage to stop you–so use your hands if you start falling.”

She bent forward hard and fast and without her hands, and her head slammed into the ground. We got ice and a shady place to sit and she said, “I’m just so scared of that move. I want to do it, but…”

I said, “Well, when you decide you love doing the trick more than you love being scared of it, you’ll get it,” which was callous and hurtful, and she was indeed hurt, and unhappy for an hour until we did the show and our routine and my hands and feet told her again, I love you, I respect you, I’ve got you.

What I said was mean. It was also true. Acrobats must love the flight more than fearing injury or literal death. Not instead of fear–just more.

My writer buddy wants me to blog about going forward after bad feedback. About what it’s like to finally put out a piece you like, that your friends have given good criticism on and said “It’s ready,” and then receive literary magazine criticism so sharp and painful it makes you want to curl up and cry and never write again. Certainly, you never want to submit again. You may even start thinking that all the strangers who criticize and reject are right and the friends who read your work are only pacifying you, saying to each other behind your back, “We’d better not let her know how bad she really is.”

I think about writing on that topic, and I think about how many rejections I’ve gotten, and the painfulness of criticism not only by email and form letter and Submittable, but also in newspaper reviews of your self-written solo show, and to your face from people who are sober and sane but still need to say how much they dislike you. I remember that time I got yelled at on Dragon’s Den and cried and me being yelled at and crying made the network season promo and is still well-known enough in Canada that people come up to me on the street and say “Don’t let anyone shit on your dreams!” Or that time Howard Stern got an entire audience to stand up and boo me, personally, in my hometown. (Reality TV, good times!)

Why did I still perform? Why do I still submit work? Why do I write deeply personal essays and send them into the world to get back the stab of “Sorry this does not meet our needs at this time”?

Because I love being published more than I love protecting myself from being hurt. Not instead of–just more.

There are tricks to make it better. Every agent rejection after a request for manuscript pages gets a one-line “thanks for taking a look!” email. When I performed in theatres, I wrote paper thank-you notes to all reviewers regardless of number of stars. To even the guy who said my performance was meh, “Thank you for taking the time to share my show with your readers!” Writing back, saying thank you, I’m a person, makes me feel like a participant in the artistic dialogue, someone with differing taste instead of a victim of judgment.

And it does get easier. The more I submit, the more likely I am to feel a brief sting and move on, like brushing against the oven door. An hour later, I’ve forgotten. The more I submit, the less any one place feels like my “dream” venue or agent. The more likely I am to think, “Welp, sorry this wasn’t for you–who’s next on the list?”

In order to keep sending out work, I have to love being published more than I love not feeling shitty about rejection. Applying this idea to writers struggling with their own rejections is cold and callous and hurtful. I feel mean when I think it or say it. But it’s also the truth, and it’s a decision we all get to make:

Publication or not getting hurt feelings.

What do you love more?



Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. She’ll be teaching a Self-Editing intensive and offering one-on-one feedback meetings at Hippocamp Creative Nonfiction Conference, September 8-10 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

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§ 118 Responses to What Do You Love More?

  • Oh, I love this. Thank you.

  • Thank you for reminding us writers to be strong when facing criticism so we can continue to do what we love. It’s not easy but you show us how through your story.

  • K. L. Romo says:

    Reblogged this on K. L. Romo and commented:
    Insightful essay for writers who get rejected – how to move on.

  • K. L. Romo says:

    Love this essay Allison! Ditto everything you said. It IS very true.

  • Jan Priddy says:

    Oh Allison, I guess I do not know just now. Many years ago, a poet friend (a famous one) critiqued a story of mine as a personal favor. She hated the story. It was pretty bad. “Keep taking classes,” she said.

    Three hours later I had recovered enough to share the bad news with younger writer-friend.

    “Well,” my younger friend said, “what did she like about the story? She must have liked something!”

    “Nothing,” I said. “I listened hard for something good. She didn’t like the way it began or the way it ended. She did not like my dialogue or characters or voice or plot or anything. She argued that my point of view character should be wise and was not wise at all. She did not like one single thing.” And then I laughed.

    I was younger then.

    My work still goes out. It is still rejected. Sometimes I am disappointed. Sometimes a peer or an editor gives specific, hard details about what did not appeal instead of the general “does not fit our needs” response. I always, always, always revisit after that. Even when the critique is cruel and harsh, I look again at the story to see where I can make it stronger. Sometimes I can.

    I have submitted stories dozens of times before finding a home for them. My best stories, ones that have won awards, often take the longest. But it still hurts when someone important or knowledgeable shakes their head. My certainty shatters and I become a mouse who thinks it should be enough to enjoy the process of writing. Sometimes that is all there is.

    What an amazing person you are! I need reminding sometimes that “publish” is the final step in writing. Sharing our work is a part of the process unless the writing is mere therapy.

    [And thank you for sharing your tip about thank-you notes. I was never sure if that is appropriate, and now I will consider it yet another of my process.]

    • Allison K Williams says:

      Jan I love that we are gradually getting to know each other through the comments section – thank you for so often taking the time to engage so meaningfully!

      I think famous people can also be bad critics – they may be used to running in a circle where people don’t need a boost, or they may have not given feedback in a while and they forget how much it sucks to get all negative feedback! Giving feedback is a skill, too, and it takes practice and a desire to do it well, to make sure that the writer walks away resolved to write more instead of discouraged.

      With you on the process – I’ve been submitting a lot less and focusing on finishing another book right now. I’ve also been (shhhh) questioning whether literary magazines are the right place for my work – I read a great piece by Annette Gendler about switching her focus to more mainstream media, and it really rang for me.


      Happy writing!

      • Jan Priddy says:

        Allison, it is always delightful to find a new essay by you or a response from you to my comment. I feel honored by the latter.

        I think “famous people” have sometimes succeeded because they have successfully pushed all doubt aside and soldiered on. They know what is true for their writing and perhaps not so well what might be true for others’.

        Writers should tell the story they want to read, and perhaps the lesson is that we should also only submit to the journals we read. I try to do that, rotating subscriptions and then submitting to the ones I enjoy best. I am ridiculously partial to journals with covers I likeβ€”probably from six years and two degrees in studio arts. (A journal published an essay of mine last month, and the cover is so awful I do not even look forward to my contributor’s copy.)

        Ten years ago my MFA advisor asked, “Who reads all these literary journals?” And I had to admit, if only to myself, that even I do not read them. I read P&W and Brevity, I read novels and nonfiction and memoir. I know what makes me impatient and what I enjoy.

        In the mean time, I write what I like.

    • i know exactly what you mean! but its important to publish not for others but for ourselves. Approval is just an icing on the cake

  • Mary Fiorenza says:

    Allison, I love the story about being an acrobat. To be an acrobat, and a writer, and an editor — that seems a good life. Thank you for re-framing the risk of sending work out into the world. It’s a good question I will keep asking myself: “What do I love more?”

  • I hope to comment more coherently on this essay later, because all I can say right now is, “Wow!” Fantastic. Fantastic. No rejection from me!

  • Great post and excellent comments. So glad I came across your post so I can now follow your blog. Thank you for life-wisdom of the practical realities we all face, and should at the very least take an earnest look at. As for what one loves more … The and/and (or as I sometimes think of it as “the and, and the-and-plus-a-little”…)–it is a fabulous yardstick. Thank you!

  • sassycowgirllogic says:

    I have the same thoughts on fear. After my divorce I was scared to let anyone in my box I put myself in. Finally I realized I had to over fear itself. Enjoyed this!

  • I love to write. I live to write. Yes, those punches and scratches can sting and hurt, but they also heal and scar over. The scars remind me my skin is thick, and that fear dissipates over time, and I have never given up no matter how many scars I count, or how much fear I have had to face.

  • I don’t quite know about publishing. It is true you need to love it to go through the work’s tedium, risking of rejection by people you can’t often talk with in any far reaching or open dialogue, anyway. I’ve published pieces and poems several times; it was hard and it was less hard, depending on factors like what and where. But writing drives me and I give over to it easily and so I keep at it. The blog is reaching more than most other (read “legitimately”) published pieces have, I am certain, and it is rewarding to share ideas and commentary both ways. Lit mags? Not convinced, either. I am soon attending a conference to learn more about the business of writing for/submitting to mainstream publications. Meantime, I write short fiction, narrative nonfiction and poetry three times a week or more and keep learning. Thanks for an interesting post, as ever.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      You’re welcome – thanks for reading and sharing! It sounds like you have a good handle on what’s making you happy, and the kind of work you want to be doing. I love blogging, and I agree–for me, too, it reaches more people than many of the publications.

  • spiritualtuna says:

    “Not instead of – just more” … wow. I absolutely love that, perhaps a new mantra for myself. I am new to wordpress and blogging in general and this was exactly the “first” article I needed to remind me why I am nervously attempting this. Thank you

    • Allison K Williams says:

      You’re welcome – A certain amount of fear is healthy, for sure πŸ™‚ Welcome to blogging and can’t wait to see what you add to the writing world!

  • Jane Bled says:

    Not all writers have the goal to be professionally published. Some people are happy just doing it for kicks. But those who strive to make a career of it, your post is a good kick in the pants. πŸ˜‰

  • If you only expect praise you had better not start anything!

  • The way I look at it, a rejection of my writing is one person’s opinion of whether or not my work fits his or her world. It is not a judgment on the quality of my work. If I’m given feedback, I can learn from it and apply it, if appropriate. Otherwise, I follow my heart and how it points to the path ahead. Thank you for your insightful post. Ray

  • I recently started publishing and right now I am just scared that people will think I am not good enough or deep enough.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      At first, you won’t be – none of us are. But as you keep practicing, you will be, and practicing is truly the only way to get there. Keep putting your work out there, and it’ll get better, and you’ll get better at knowing when it’s good enough and deep enough, and when you can go further. Solidarity ❀

  • D-Claire says:

    This really resonates with me. A few life events have slowed my writing in the last six weeks to a trickle from what was a torrent for the first half of the year. Then I was thinking about dancing, writing and running tonight – how they’re somehow interconnected for me – so your story about being an acrobat is timely. I hate getting rejections but love being published more. But I’m not sure literary journals are worth the time (and money!) it takes to do all those subissions – will read the article you posted in a prev comment now. Thanks!

  • Hafsa says:

    Thank you for such honest and beautiful words.

  • ateafan says:

    I had a writing tutor whose comments were like stinging nettle. Ouch. I too decided to thank her and I agreed with every criticism she came with so by the end of the course she was telling me not to be so hard on myself! Her comments did make me a better writer too – I would rather be a writer than a literary critic or writing tutor any day of the week!

    • Allison K Williams says:

      I spent a lot of time in gymnastics gyms, and the people getting the harshest criticism are the ones seen as most likely to benefit from it πŸ™‚

  • This is a lovely piece, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  • Savannah says:

    Thanks for this post. I love it. I also love that you wrote thank you notes to everyone!

  • Thank you for sharing this raw, honest and thoughtful piece. I’m fueled more by a constant urge to engage in the process; to write notwithstanding what results, to see what flows out while my fingers tap and surprises me time and again. So for me anyway, publication isn’t the goal per se – though, when it happens (hey, why not?) it’s the sweetest cherry on top πŸ˜‰

  • Snow says:

    Whenever I was criticized for the things that I wrote, I really feel bad about it. It kept my mood down. But thank you! Thank you for the insights!

  • Couldn’t keep my eyes off your entrancing back bend!!

    Thought provoking post… I really enjoyed it πŸ™‚



  • Joarlyn ME says:

    Reblogged this on Readings for the Adamant Life.

  • shineabhi says:


  • I’m a photographer and I think this piece has a lot of crossover for dealing with rejection in that field as well.

  • whatevertheyaint says:

    Reblogged this on whatevertheyaint.

  • herheadache says:

    Reblogged this on Her Headache and commented:
    I like writing and taking the chances on submitting more than I dislike the alternative. I can deal with the sting. Thanks for the lesson Allison.

  • […] via What Do You Love More? β€” BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog […]

  • β™‘β™‘β™‘β™‘lovit

  • upasna1987 says:

    Here through Her Headache- Loved this post for it is inspiring for everyone who think about quitting . It is giving them the hope to try one more time, to keep going irrespective of the acceptance.

  • It seems quite apt that I have come across your post this morning that resonates so closely to my own ruminations. I have just joined wordpress and am currently stumbling around trying to figure out how to start making my mark, all the while with the thoughts of possible failure and how I will handle this, at the back of mind. I take a tiny bit of comfort from finding out that other people do experience the same emotions and fear of rejection. I plan to not let this fear be a deterrent though, merely a building block to the path of success however many falls there may be along the line. All the best with your journey Allison.

    • coreynasfell says:

      Don’t plan around “fear” or its influence, plan around writing – and only writing. Make no room for rejection and you will never feel rejected. Good luck!

    • Allison K Williams says:

      Thanks! And remember, too–failure is a good sign. It means you’re trying something greater than your current abilities, and it’s a step towards being better.

  • beegtee says:

    Thanks you very much for the encouragement

  • “Trial and error is freedom.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

  • msellezed says:

    Well, this is quite wonderful. Thank you.

  • J says:

    This is a lesson that I’m only just learning. I wish I had understood that pay off earlier in my life. Hopefully people will benefit from reading this post.

  • I love to learn and try hard never to quit when the path becomes filled

    with roadblocks.

    Fear can be a real deal-breaker if we allow it to spoil our dreams.

    Thanks for writing such an inspirational article. I enjoyed reading the

    comments also.

    Quite educational.

  • Fantastic advice, and well written:) Bravo

  • coreynasfell says:

    I really enjoyed this concept. Would also love to see develop the idea as the “base” a little more. Perhaps a future post?

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      That’s a neat thought – I tend to channel a lot of my “base” instincts into stage management, I’ll have to think about how that applies to writing more! Thanks πŸ™‚

  • […] Source: What Do You Love More? […]

  • Isha Perera says:

    yeah it’s true, even i have the same thoughts.

  • […] Source: What Do You Love More? […]

  • […] via What Do You Love More? β€” BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog […]

  • Wow! Great post. I needed to read this. What a great way to go through life, to question ‘what do you love more?’

    That’s also a great response to reply with a thank you. At the end of the day, they’re doing their job just as you’re doing yours.

    Way to make it through the other side. Thank you.

  • Nina says:

    This post reminds me of the AnaΓ―s Nin quote, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Thank you for this post.

  • drallisonbrown says:

    I love this! I write about letting go of fear and replacing it with love. I would like with your permission, to link my readers back to this piece and use a quote in a future blog.

  • You just about sum up where I am at the moment. Sending abstracts off. Sending out book proposals and sample chapters. And it all seems to move so slowly. But I will persevere. πŸ™‚

  • kaebear20 says:

    Wow…totally on the same page ✌✌

    Also follow back please so you can read mine too πŸ€—

  • Love this, especially the comparison of moving past rejection like we notice, then ignore, a singe from brushing against a hot object

  • Atique_Saher says:

    Thank you so much. Here today I was thinking of stop publishing my writings because of lack of response I thought they were not good. But after reading it all (that no doubt is beautifully written) I am going to continue doing things that bring me joy and peace. Such as publishing my writings and write more often. Thank you again. Loads of love for you ❀️

  • Beautiful work❣️Thanks for sharing.

  • selviafei says:

    Very inspirational πŸ˜‰

  • javerya98 says:

    This was SOOO inspiring

  • Karl Drobnic says:

    Decades ago, I used to sell stories to a few national publishers of pulp fiction. As I got to know the editors and publishers, I learned that it was always about boosting circulation and selling advertising. They bought what would further their careers. Don’t take a rejection personally.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      Yes! Rejection isn’t feedback–rejection is “I don’t want this product right now for reasons beyond the maker’s control.”

  • This is so true, if you really won’t something you have to take the risk. 😊 I really do think it’s worth it.

  • Thanks for sharing this inspiring piece! I was told when I was little that I couldn’t make a career out of writing. I’m glad I didn’t listen, or my books wouldn’t have been published. We must not let rejection discourage us.

  • Melanie says:

    That’s a great way of looking at it and bolstering resilience. I love what I’m doing more than protecting myself from failure. Excitement is greater than fear.

  • Liked it.. writing is my passion too, this would help me..thanks

  • Real meaning of life is when we do what we love then success itself come to us

  • backwardsisbetter says:

    Reblogged this on Backwards Is Better and commented:
    A great read on what motivates our decisions. For a long time I loved being lazy and protecting my feelings more than pursuing my passions. Evaluating my nefarious relationship with the couch and committing myself to my passions has changed my life. As Allison asks, what do you love more?

  • I love that you you still write beautifully pieces such as this. I have been blessed by it. Thank you!

  • Lisa Chesser says:

    Yes, we all recognize the feeling. It’s the reason paintbrushes get shoved into the back of a cabinets and canvasses remain blank. Yes, it gets easier but I sometimes wonder if the criticism has to be that sharp or if sometimes we end up the punching bag for a bad day. Either way, your post helps make us all feel not so alone.

  • Ratika Deshpande says:

    I like the idea of sending thank you’s to the those who rejected my work. i did that only once, when I got a rejection with comments by at least a dozen people who had considered my work because that kind of feedback was unexpected (and useful too). Now I think I’ll send a thank you to everyone, even if they simply say a kind ‘no’.

  • Reblogged this on A. F. Nelson and commented:
    I have been rejected three times as much as I have been accepted. Thanks for relieving my feeling of being a glutton for punishment. Write on.

  • β€œWell, when you decide you love doing the trick more than you love being scared of it, you’ll get it,”

    Thank You more than I can say for that line. It doesn’t ring callous to me; just true. And those words couldn’t have tumbled into my psyche at a more opportune time. Beautiful!

    Cheers and Namaste and THANK YOU!!!!

  • ” when you decide you love doing it more tham you love being scared of it maybe you’ll get it ”
    wow you ryt there are influential, that’s a good presence of mind to possess . loved it !!
    I’m relatively new here , just 2 posts old . I have a lot of poetries to post , so it would be great it you could check out my work too .THANKS !!

  • for someone like me who wants to write, tbis is inspiring 😊 Thank you!

  • agogo22 says:

    Reblogged this on msamba.

  • This is really inspiring! I recently suffered a series of rejections, but this gives me hope! Thanks so much! πŸ™‚

  • Tunde says:

    Thanks for this! I recently started blogging here again and it’s nice to see posts like these to spur on the writers! πŸ™‚

  • Deepak Kundu says:

    Hi Allison, great post. Better to be the failure who nobly strived than the success who never really had to.Brandon Sanderson, Firstborn.

  • saeforli says:

    I love this so much! And I couldn’t have found it at a better time. I was feeling very discouraged as I’ve just started blogging and I’m getting little recognition and little to no feedback and I have to keep telling myself just keep posting, keep writing, keep moving forward…. For me, the success is already achieved in the process of creating and putting myself out there. That, for me, is achievement enough. When I realised that it made things a little easier. I don’t need to depend on constant ‘trinkets’ of validation.

    I am an extremely anxious and fearful person. I don’t know fully if it is my nature or if it has been learnt. But it is a constant pressure I have to work against but I can say I love creation, life, expression and connection more than I do fear.

    Thank you. I’ll this many more times. Gonna bookmark the page and leave the tab open.

  • Reblogged this on One Adrift and commented:
    I found this today after posting my image on courage. Fits the theme.

  • cruzfierro75 says:

    This is a good piece. Thanks for sharing.

  • jajwalyark says:

    You are “a base” for all your readers even now! Thank you!

  • […] we highlighted a post byΒ Allison K. WilliamsΒ atΒ Brevity, in which she shares how sheΒ responds to fear, rejection, and β€œfailure” as an artist, using falling at acrobat practice as a beautiful metaphor for dealing with them as a […]

  • asolare says:

    Still trying to figure it out

  • This is sooo well written. Good job Allison ! πŸ™‚

  • harperphd says:

    I also fear failing more than the act sometimes. I absolutely love my job and the opportunities that I’m given but that fear can make me enjoy some of the experiences a lot less.

    Your post really puts into words well the way we should think about tackling the things were scared of to become more resilient in life.

  • themwani2197 says:

    An inspiring read and definitely food for thought for anyone with aspirations of being a serious writer.

  • wathanblog says:

    […] Brevity, Allison K. Williamsshares how she responds to fear, rejection, and β€œfailure” as an artistβ€” and uses falling at acrobat practice as a beautiful metaphor for dealing with them as a […]

  • […] Allison Williams, Social Media Editor at Brevity magazine, wrote a fantastic blog post about this very thing – overcoming fear. It’s entitled β€œWhat Do You Love More?” It’s like […]

  • […] Allison Williams, Social Media Editor at Brevity magazine, wrote a fantastic blog post about this very thing – overcoming fear. It’s entitled β€œWhat Do You Love More?” It’s like […]

  • […] Allison Williams, Social Media Editor at Brevity magazine, wrote a fantastic blog post about this very thing – overcoming fear. It’s entitled “What Do You Love […]

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