I don’t know when I first found about this word and its meaning. It could have been in the books I’ve been reading, or maybe something my father said.
What does it mean?
In Polish, it’s spelled hucpa and means “fraud”. In its original Hebrew, it meant “cheek” or “audacity”- both for good and for bad. But later I would find out, that recently, chutzpah has acquired a more positive quality: that of courage or grit.
A few biggest myths about me
Some people think that I am a confident, organized, a planner who writes bucket lists of places she wants to submit to. A fellow writer once told me: “But you are so confident! How do you do it?”
To be honest, I have no idea. The truth is that I am the very opposite of confident. I’m shy and quiet. I’m chaos personified. I make things fall down just by looking at them. No, I’m not psychic, just very clumsy. Also, I doubt myself constantly.
How I approach writing
But maybe they are right in a way. The beauty of the Internet is that people like me, who are introverts, can submit their writing to prestigious magazines with only a minimum of embarrassment. Don’t get me wrong, being rejected still feels awkward (it should probably be the description for awkward in a dictionary), but that’s what you sign up for when you become a writer. Still, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now- contacting people I don’t know who are editors at coveted publications- if I had to do it in person.
As much as I don’t like putting myself out there, I do think that as a writer, I do have lots of chutzpah– more in a good way though. It takes courage to write your heart out and then send it to an editor for approval. Rejection fear is real. It takes guts to write about a difficult situation, and then have millions of people read it and comment.
How I really do it
And while I know how it hurts to be rejected, I simply ask to be featured, or published. At least most of the time- because sometimes I get overwhelmed and then stop functioning properly.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t make mistakes, though, or that I am somehow resistant to doubts or low self-esteem. That’s not true. In fact, I basically am convinced all my writing sucks until it gets published which is when I start changing my mind and thinking that maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. Until, of course around a year goes by and I got better and by that time the writing which I had found so good begins to suck again.
Some sobering thoughts
It was also so sobering for me to realize that, after more than four years of blogging, I’ve never had a post go viral, or written something that people widely shared. Maybe it’s because my writing is usually safe. Or maybe it’s simply because I am not good enough of a writer to engender that kind of reaction in people. Or maybe it’s because I’m too intellectual when everyone prefers to read writing to feel something rather than to learn something. Or maybe it’s all of these things.
And biggest mistakes
I’ve also made plenty of mistakes writing and later pitching my articles and essays to editors and trying to get published. For example, I once suggested an article idea to an editor of a huge prestigious publication (I won’t say which one because I’m too embarrassed). To my surprise, she replied, and said that she loved the idea. So I wrote the post, and submitted it… and, as they say, heard crickets.
So I began bombarding her with emails pretty much every week or so, and she always answered she was going to have a look at it soon, but never did. In the end, I realized that she probably wasn’t going to publish my post and asked whether she’d prefer me to pitch something else. This time, she replied quickly, saying that she tried to make it work but in the end it wasn’t such a good fit for them after all.
Of course, it was sad that I spent so much time working on that article but it was my fault as well: I shouldn’t have written her so many emails. Instead, I assumed my article was good enough to be published there and it wasn’t. Yes, sometimes chutzpah can take you too far.
However, that doesn’t prevent me from trying again, and again and again. The mistakes I made help me learn (and besides, I got my foot in the door and next time I write that editor, I hope she’ll remember me enough to know I wrote her and forgot enough not to know how many emails I sent her).
There is doubt. Lots of it
Oh I do have my moments of doubt. In fact, I spend all my time between submitting an article, and waiting for the editor’s reply seriously doubting everything about everything. Luckily, I can usually distract myself writing something else (and besides, kids make a great distraction from rejection paralysis), but it’s there and it’s real. The only thing that gives me hope is Charles Bukowski’s aphorysms: “Bad writers tend to have the self-confidence, while the good ones tend to have self-doubt.” To write means to doubt yourself.
Also, from all the articles I get published, there are plenty more that didn’t make it – but no one knows it because it’s not something people want to hear about. They prefer to learn about the positives without knowing how much time and work and effort it takes. Did you know that it took me a year to get published on Huffington Post- from the moment I started trying till I actually got published? A whole year!
People don’t know what it takes
This was of course extreme, but people usually don’t realize that the first submission is like a French crepe: it usually doesn’t work out. You have to do it again, and think about what you did wrong and try again, and fail again, and get up and start all over.
Despite the emotional roller-coaster that is writing, and the many things I get totally and utterly wrong, I think I get at least one thing right: despite the fact that I am overly critical of my own writing, deep down I know that I at least have the potential to write something good. Maybe something very good if I’m lucky and work hard. And that? That is chutzpah at its best.