I was going to write a really interesting retrospective post, a writing of sorts to my younger self, but now I’ve decided that I will make that its own piece, and don’t want to post it due to copyright issues.
I just realized what a great thing it was for me to get rejected from UC Santa Barbara’s College of Creative Studies, back in 2007. Of course, even if I had been accepted, I would have gone to Berkeley anyway, but it was still good to get rejected.
That rejection taught me that creative writing judging and selection is utterly subjective. It wasn’t even that rejection, in all honesty. I knew the subjectivity of selection before this happened, when I was asked to be a student reader for my community college poetry contest in 2006. What we did is we received copies of all the submissions in one big packet, and we had to read them. After we read them, we had to rank them 1-4 or something similar. Then we had a meeting, and there were four of us, three professors and I, sitting around a table. And the process of selection went like this: we went around the table, announcing the name of a particular submission, and then we would call out our rank for that particular submission. Four rankings for each submission would be written down. After that, the number of 1s, 2s, 3s, 4s, etc. would be counted, and obviously the 1s would be the top selections.
And actually, this is exactly how the MFA selection process works. I had a chance to speak to Bob Hass (finally!) a couple of weeks ago at a reception, and he told me that every piece is read by someone and then ranked on a scale of 1-20, the 11-20s being waitlist people in most cases. If your piece is read by someone who ranks you a 5, you’re in good shape. But if you’re ranked 18, you’re pretty much fucked, and it’s probably not because you’re a bad writer, but only because your submission was read by someone who had a bad day or wasn’t interested in your style, or whatever. In most cases it isn’t about quality of writing.
Someone at Hollins really liked me. Actually, Doug Whynott, the director of Emerson’s MFA program, called me when I first got the call, and mentioned specific things he liked about my sample, which was impressive. Too bad they took 48 first-year students and Hollins took 12.
Don’t be discouraged. I got so many rejections. I just didn’t take them seriously because I know about the completely subjective nature of writing. I was also foolishly confident in my writing.
I was thinking, “Yeah, I’ll get into The New School, I’ll get into Montana, I’ll get into Houston.” Then I ended up being rejected by Montana and Houston, but surprisingly waitlisted by TNS, my top choice at the time of application.
Smeltzy, if you’re reading this, I’m still holding out newfound hope for TNS. Haha, how absurd does that sound? I don’t really want to go there now anyway. I just want to have a friend already there, as stupid as it sounds. I like friends.