Guernica: The audience has to be considered and therefore you offer yourself as a sacrifice. I’m exaggerating. But what Steve Almond calls your “radical empathy,” in the foreword to Tiny Beautiful Things, is in a deep way your openness to share with others your failings. Here’s a note you put up on your Facebook page: “Going through a drawer I found the submissions/applications log I’ve kept off and on over the years. Just in case you think it’s all been roses I’d like to report that Yaddo rejected me (as recently as 2011). McDowell rejected me. Hedgebrook rejected me twice. The Georgia Review rejected me andPloughshares rejected me and Tin House rejected me, as did about twenty other journals and magazines. Both the Sun and the Missouri Review rejected me before I appeared in their pages. Literary Arts declined to give me a fellowship three times before I won one. I’ve applied for an NEA [grant] five times and it’s always been a no. Harper’s Magazinenever even bothered to reply. I say it all the time but I’ll say it again: keep on writing. Never give up. Rejection is part of a writer’s life. Then, now, always.”
Can you talk a bit about what you’re doing here? Do you ever doubt yourself when you offer such help?
Cheryl Strayed: What I’m doing is telling the truth and no, I don’t doubt myself when I reveal my own failures and vulnerabilities. The strangest thing to come out of Wild’s success is how often people make incorrect assumptions about me. They assume writing is easy for me and I’ll never face rejection again. But of course I will and I do. The thing I’ve learned over and over again is never, ever assume that you’re going to get something—publication, award nominations, a prize, a residency, or fellowship. And never assume you aren’t going to get it either. The writing life doesn’t move in a straight line. I’ve had successes and rejections all along the way, at every stage of my career, and I will continue to do so. Acceptances and rejections don’t define me. They’re both part of what it means to be a writer. My job is to simply keep doing the work. Like—well, you know—a motherfucker.
It's easy to forget that success is often just the skimmed fat of a lot of hard work and rejection.