Michelle Wittle On Just a Piece of Paper

Michelle Wittle On, Writing Tips

I recently met a very feisty woman by the name of Edith. Although we only shared a few words, perhaps a little over a dozen if that, she said something that has been resonating in my mind ever since we spoke.


The discussion was about taking risks and not being afraid. She told me how she has never been one to be scared to “put herself out there” or “make a fool of herself”. Then she said, “it’s just a piece of paper” (referring to a rejection letter). How simple is that statement and yet how spot on.


Why am I afraid to put my stories and essays out there? It is only a piece of paper. They aren’t saying I am not a good enough writer or that I should’ve have quit my day job. All they are saying is that right now, that particular piece isn’t for them. It’s not like they are laughing at me (and even if they are, I won’t hear it, so does it really matter?). It’s just a piece of paper…nothing more.


But in my head, I twist it into so much more. I see it as a failure. Once again, I let everyone including myself down. I freeze because of a rejection letter. I am constantly looking for validation as a writer and that letter says my words are “no good here”.


Sure, it is because I lack self-confidence. But I think it is also because I have fear. This fear flows into all aspects of my life and stops me from doing all kinds of things. The worst part is, I wasn’t always like this. What happened to the girl who used to join every activity in high school regardless of how much her mother didn’t want her to? Where is that girl who sent out her poetry and didn’t care if she got rejected? When did I stop being the girl who took chances?


Here is the answer…I don’t know. As I got older, I just stopped taking chances. I guess I thought I just had to get in line with the rest of the world. Go to school, earn a degree, get a job then die in said job. Along the way get married and have children. Then I will achieve the American dream of the white picket fence and the two-story home. I’ll even bake apple pies and go to yard sales. In the fall, I’ll carve pumpkins and attend the fall festival.


But here’s the thing, I don’t know how to bake apple pies. I want so badly to have that safe plan and be able to just fall in line. However, I keep tripping on my untied shoelaces. People trample over me and no one lends a hand to help me get back in line. I guess I just don’t belong in that line.


Fear keeps me from accepting that it is okay to not be in that line. Fear keeps blocking my eyes from the other line. The one over there, just a bit out of reach. People in that line are laughing and they have papers all over the place. They smile and hug one another warmly. If I just stretch a bit more, I can make it. But that fear keeps my limbs from being loose.


My whole life I thought I only had one chance at being normal. The older I get, the more I see that normal is just a relative term. My normal will never be your normal, and I know, in theory,  that is okay. There is more then one way to be normal, but fear stops us all from seeing that.


However, Edith knows all of that already. She was never one to shy away from a risk. Her normal is the type of normal I want to live in. I want to see a rejection letter not as a testament to being an untalented hack, but as just a piece of paper.


Ps…I am not saying that there is anything wrong with having a life filled with apple pies and festivals. I am learning how to see that things aren’t always what they seem. Also, one day you and I will sit down and I will tell you all about my life. Then you will understand why I needed to hold on to the possibility of achieving that type of the American dream.    


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