My anti-resumé.

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Within an hour of our IndieGogo campaign meeting its goal, I got a call telling me I’d been awarded a North Carolina Arts Council Artist Fellowship. It’s a huge, huge honor. It’s also the fourth time I’ve applied for it, and to me, that’s part of why it’s an honor.

A couple years ago I was having dinner with a playwright, Bekah Brunstetter, and her director David Shmidt Chapman. We talked about how rejection is just part of the landscape for all beginning artists, no matter how talented or hardworking they might be or how successful they might appear. David said he’d love to publish his “anti-résumé” someday—a list of all the things he didn’t get.

Ever since, I’ve wanted to publish my own. So I’ve gone through the last six years’ worth of spreadsheets in both prose and playwriting, to literary journals, workshops, conferences, theaters, graduate schools, play groups, grants, fellowships, residencies, and prizes. My purpose in naming them is not to somehow fault them for rejecting my work. Selection committees and artistic directors have a really hard job—so many talented artists apply for so few opportunities, and decisions often come down to impersonal factors. (Also, as my mother loved to say, de gustibus non disputandum est—“on matters of taste, there can be no argument.”) So this is just my attempt at stating, as plainly as possible, that rejection is the typical landscape of an emerging artist. Or of any artist, period. Some think that there are just some pre-ordained Golden Children who Get Everything, and that’s really not the case—at least, it hasn’t been mine.

Methodology: All formal creative submissions were included, whether cold or by invitation. Works are named in various stages of development (for example, The Girl in the Road was just a proposal in 2008). For the novel, agents were not named (for reasons of sensitivity) and publishing houses not included (for reasons that such information tends to remain private). “Personal rejections” include all rejections that came with a handwritten note, personalized feedback, and/or encouragement to submit again.

Here is the list: Anti-Resume 081913. And here are a few notable data:

  1. Of all the things I’ve ever submitted to or applied for, I’ve gotten 3% of them.
  2. I’ve been rejected before being accepted. See: FringeNYC, Millay Colony for the Arts, Shimmer, Impact Theatre, North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship.
  3. I’ve been rejected after being accepted. See: Durham Emerging Artist Grant.
  4. A work’s rejection rate has no clear relationship to its eventual success. In various guises, The Girl in the Road and What Every Girl Should Know have each been rejected 67 times.
  5. Of all submissions I made to theaters that accepted unsolicited submissions, 68% never replied at all.
  6. My personal rejection rate is 17%, which kept me afloat a number of times. (Thank you, anyone who ever took the time to write me.)
  7. Yes, I’ve written exactly one erotica story. It’s about a trip to the ophthalmologist. It’s great.
  8. The same week my huge publishing deal went down, I was rejected from the third of three MFA programs I’d applied to. C’est la vie!

The overall lesson is this—and it’s not necessarily how I think the world should be, or wish the world would be. It’s purely practical: that if you’re a writer, even a very talented and hardworking writer, writing must be its own reward, or you’re going to have a rough time. Recently a friend ask me if my novel publication date now felt like the proverbial apple in the Tantalus myth and immediately I was like, “No, I get the apple every day, because I write every day.”

I’d like to think that no amount of failure (or success) will change that, but I can’t say that for sure. I can only say I’ve found it to be true so far.


63 Comments on “My anti-resumé.”

  1. Amy S. says:

    This is fantastic and exactly what I needed to read and also exactly what I need to read every day forever.

  2. Lindsay says:

    Me too. If you only knew how many things I didn’t apply for, simply because I feared rejection. It is so admirable to go for the opportunities no matter what! I’ve been doing more of that lately and will continue to thanks to your post. Thank you!! x

  3. As someone who was rejected for the fellowship you just received, thank you for this. Perspective is really important. And I was thrilled when I saw your name. Thrilled about all the yeses you are receiving. It enriches us all when good things happen for good writers.

  4. erainbowd says:

    Inspirational. Also evidence of how tireless you are in sending stuff out! Impressive.
    What stuck out to me was how theatres were the big non-reply-ers. Hmmmm.

  5. Sheila. Broderick says:

    Excellent. Thank you

  6. […] the idea of an anti-resume for all the jobs/publications/grants/fellowships/etc. that you didn’t get. (via Emily Kaye […]

  7. James Still says:

    Hi Monica — I love that you wrote this, that you gave voice to a reality we all face. One thing that I repeat to myself again and again: “Rejection is not my failure.” Sounds simple but of course it can also be difficult/impossible. Somehow, the longer we do this the more we see that rejection is somehow part of the big picture too, that you can connect the dots and find overlap between rejection and “success.” And who knows why one organization/reader/audience embraces what we do while a dozen others show no interest? But we keep creating, we keep making stuff, we keep inventing — because that’s what we do. Thank you again for writing this essay! I’m Tweeting it now!

  8. lindaessig says:

    You are the very embodiment of resilience and persistence. Brava!

  9. This is such a valuable post- thanks for writing it.

  10. Beth Kissileff says:

    It is so important for all of us to know that the rejections don’t matter, the persistence to keep going and working does. Here is a recent piece of mine on the same topic.

    http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/30/rejection-is-a-process/?_r=0

  11. dlattanzi says:

    Reblogged this on Living Ethnography and commented:
    Why writing must be its own reward.

  12. Cyndi says:

    Such an inspiration to know my very-similar “anti-resume” is not an aberration!

    Also, it’s very interesting to note how, over the years, your personal rejections increased from the standard form rejection. Of course, the no-response rejection has increased as well as that seems to be the new norm :-/

    Thank you.

    • The latter is more a reflection of submitting to more theaters than literary journals, overall. It’s very unusual to get no response from a journal, even if it takes a long time; in theatre, no response is the norm.

  13. Reblogged this on otis haschemeyer and commented:
    “I’ve always associated the moment of writing with a moment of lift, of joy, of unexpected reward.” ~ Seamus Heaney

  14. “I get the apple every day, because I write every day.” Yes! Thank you for this. Every time I get a rejection, I tell my husband, “I got another rejection today,” and I hang my head. Then the next morning I get up and write again. And send out the piece again. And write some more, because the writing makes me feel better. I will come back to these stats for encouragement, when I’m feeling low and need a reminder to keep sending work out, to not be discouraged and hide it all away because of a rejection letter. Thank you.

  15. Uri says:

    Excellent post. Reminded me of a quote by Calvin Coolidge:

    “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.

    Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

    Keep pressing on!

    • Ahhh. I love that too! There’s also a quotation by Toni Morrison floating around in my head, something about how she knows tons of “talented wrecks”…people who had loads of raw ability but just, for some reason or another, never capitalized on it.

  16. Even though we all know how things are out there, it’s easy to get discouraged. Thank you for reminding us why we plug along in the first place – for the sheer pleasure we derive from the writing itself. From taking a kernel of something remembered or thought about, or even wished for, and allowing it to develop and bloom before our very eyes. And from learning something about ourselves and others in the process. I needed this lift today. Thank you again.

  17. […] i will read this everyday. […]

  18. Jo says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I’m in awe of your persistence!

  19. […] Monica Byrne’s “anti-resumé” is making the virtual rounds–and with good reason. […]

  20. […] she wrote THIS. She calls it her “anti-resume.” It’s a blog post that contains a link to a […]

  21. lori says:

    thanks for the laughs and the amazing perspective….I love it!

  22. Molly Campbell says:

    Thanks for sharing. I’m going to try to be more brave and get more of my work out there. Sometimes I get too afraid of rejection and I don’t submit.

  23. Your resilience is what keeps us going.

  24. pomare4 says:

    Reblogged this on pomare4 and commented:
    Well said about being a writer (or artist) and rejection! The anti-resume!

  25. […] playwright Monica Byrne who has shown how much resilience you need to be a writer by writing an anti-resume and drawing up a downloadable spreadsheet of her writing submissions since 2007. Definitely worth a […]

  26. Emma Spurgin Hussey says:

    Thanks for this – and thanks, Gina, for forwarding. Funny how something that in one sense is so dispiriting is actually so motivating. What a really useful and timely kick up the arse!

  27. Annie Taft says:

    You forgot to list the Manbites Dog production of Nightwork in Durham on your spreadsheet. Love that you keep a spreadsheet I have never thought of doing that.

    • Hi Annie! I didn’t include Nightwork because there was no submission process, so it didn’t fit my criteria for a data point. But yeah, a lot of people would consider that a “blue line item.” Still 3%, though. :)

  28. […] because it refers to birth control but also to an artist’s life in general. My anti-résumé post—also mentioned in the article—really resonated with a lot of people. So far it’s […]

  29. It was great to cross paths with your post today. ironically I don’t know how it came up, other than a failed to load page popped up first :-) Ive had my share of hundreds of teaching applications rejected since I have completed my PhD, the very thing I thought would keep my job. I’ve written a 500 page dissertation but my attempts at getting articles accepted nil. One day.. perhaps. Like my art, my writing is a way for what lives inside me to make it into the world, if only hung on my wall its there to remind me. Thanks again. candace

  30. […] in the midst of all these accolades, Monica posted what she calls her “anti-resume” on her blog. It was her way of reminding friends, fans and aspiring writers what her life has really been like […]

  31. […] in the midst of all these accolades, Monica posted what she calls her “anti-resume” on her blog. It was her way of reminding friends, fans and aspiring writers what her life has really been like […]

  32. […] in the midst of all these accolades, Monica posted what she calls her “anti-resume” on her blog. It was her way of reminding friends, fans and aspiring writers what her life has really been like […]

  33. […] in the midst of all these accolades, Monica posted what she calls her “anti-resume” on her blog. It was her way of reminding friends, fans and aspiring writers what her life has really been like […]

  34. […] in the midst of all these accolades, Monica posted what she calls her “anti-resume” on her blog. It was her way of reminding friends, fans and aspiring writers what her life has really been like […]

  35. […] in the midst of all these accolades, Monica posted what she calls her “anti-resume” on her blog. It was her way of reminding friends, fans and aspiring writers what her life has really been like […]

  36. […] in the midst of all these accolades, Monica posted what she calls her “anti-resume” on her blog. It was her way of reminding friends, fans and aspiring writers what her life has really been like […]

  37. ML Ishii says:

    Thank you for this blog! I am a big believer of always having my own projects to keep my creative voice developing and being shared. My work in itself is its own reward too!

  38. Gyda Arber says:

    This is the best thing ever. Thank you. I feel so much… not quite better, but how about a lot less alone. Thank you especially for sharing the details.

  39. […] year ago, author, Monica Byrne published her rejection list (called her anti-resume) on her blog. It is an extraordinary document – and one of the things that particularly struck me […]

  40. […] awareness of the context of those victories and felt a growing need to share it.” Or, as she put it on her blog last […]

  41. […] Monica bunun üzerine kendisinin anti-resume dediği içinde bu güzel bilgilerinin yanında başarısızlıklarını da içeren bir anti-cv hazırlamış blogunda yayınlamış. Siz de okumak isterseniz buradan buyurun. […]


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