Sunday, 1 September 2013

Rejection... Is Sexy?

There are a lot of great writing reference books that I have my eye on at the moment, but if you've been in my bedroom ever, you know why I haven't been buying them.  (If you haven't been in it, let me paint you a picture.  Right now, I am sitting at my desk, which spans the top right hand corner of the room, diagonally opposite the door.  Directly to my right is a queue of books between some owl bookends which are theoretically my next reads.  On top of those are some recent acquisitions. Above the desk is a set of floating shelves that has TWO ROWS of books on each shelf, and behind me I have two Ikea Billy bookshelves which are in much the same state.  So yeah, I really do have a major case of tsundoku.)

Some of these reference books are:

* The Novel Cure (Text Publishing)- which is basically an almanac telling you what book to read to give you perspective on whatever ails you.  Now that's my kind of medicine.
* Why We Write- A collection of essays on the art of writing and the motivation behind it by some of America's best writers.

I was flicking through Why We Write today and I happened to come across a segment in one of the essays titled Rejection is Sexy.  And I thought to myself, hang on a moment here... I've come to know a lot about rejection in the last year and I don't really think SEXY is the word that springs to mind when I reminisce about it.  The writer (and this is awful but I didn't know who the person was when I did know their name, and now I can't remember it, so I'm sorry if they're reading this which I really doubt they are), went on to talk about the idea of rising to the challenge.  If you're not in it, you definitely don't win it sort of thing.  And about how if you're getting these rejections, you're still playing the game.  This means you can go along to writers' groups and talk about your rejection nightmares.  He cited a particularly nasty response, and how he loved being able to pull that one out while sharing war stories, and in a matter of fact sort of way just saying "How do you like them apples."

That's a really great attitude to have, and if you can have it, that's awesome, but you have to keep in mind that this guy is in the book because he is one of America's top novelists.  I'm just going to give you a moment to let that sink in.

He is one of America's top novelists.  

Excuse me if I am a little sceptical about whether or not he always felt that way, considering that he's now writing from the point of view of someone who not only beat the thousands of writers in that country, but got good enough to be called one of the top literary exports.

Now, I don't always cry into my bowl of ice cream or drink myself to sleep every time I get a rejection email but it doesn't make me want to run out and skip and pick daisies either.  I got one today- a no, sorry but good luck from the Carmel Bird prize- and even though I was a bit embarrassed not to have impressed Angela Meyer a bit more, I didn't instantly start hating everything about myself.  I consider this a win.  But I did feel a little less awesome than I had before I read that email.  Earlier in the year, I read a rejection email while I was at work.  That was a mistake  Never read any emails from publishers or competitions at work unless you want to be the work crybaby! 

So rejection is humbling, rejection is debilitating for a while, rejection makes you determined, rejection toughens your skin, and rejection makes you doubt yourself... but I don't think I will ever get as far as calling it sexy.

But they say the grass is always greener on the other side, so when I'm one of Australia's top novelists (ha!) I will let you know if that changes.


5 comments:

  1. Relevant story: I recently attended a creative writing course in Edinburgh, where one of the events was a masterclass with playwright Douglas Maxwell. As part of the class, he talked about rejection and allowed us to read a selection of the rejection letters that he has received over the years he has been writing! He was incredibly candid about rejection and I thought it was so generous of him to share his rejections with us. Someone asked him, "why are you keeping all those letters?" He replied, "It's a good question; the answer is spite and revenge." I loved it so much I wrote it down :D

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  2. Absolutely, Nancy, that is a great one to write down. I have heard so many people say in the last week that they stopped subscribing to magazines that have rejected them, and I think that comes down to the quality of the rejection. It really sucks to get a stock standard response, or worse, no response at all because it forces the self-conscious writer to ask why they bother. That really sucks. While I understand the volume of submissions must be pretty high, you have to wonder why the smaller magazines and websites don't put a little more TLC into their template rejection... after all if no one submits again eventually they might have no readership! I've recently discovered the concept of the positive rejection through Fleur MacDonald's blog. This is the idea that while the piece may need a little extra work, or may not be right at that time, the person who read the submission thinks that your work has merit and they wish you well in the future. And this response is great because it doesn't make you feel alienated. If I got more positive responses, I think I would be resubmitting to more places, more often... but enough of the woe is mine whine-a-thon!

    Thanks for your comment. x

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  3. Glen Hunting9/02/2013 10:12 pm

    Hiya Emily,

    We all have to remember that there is a LOT of SUBJECTIVITY and LUCK to being published (or not being published) once your work passes a certain threshold of quality. Being published holds the promise of a powerful sense of artistic validation, but then one remembers all the other talented hopefuls one knows, whose work may never see the light of day. That's the harsh, totally unfair reality. And sometimes, when that happens, Zadie Smith's declared writerly goal of simply 'failing better next time' has to be enough of a reward on its own.

    Curiously enough, I was comparing rejection experiences just this evening with a writer/journal publisher I know. He reckons he's had so many rejections that he actually distrusts the editors that actually print his stuff...'Look, c'mon, you don't want my story...you don't even understand it, so why pretend that you do?'

    I think I'm up to 8 or 9 knock-backs this year, which actually isn't that many by a lot of people's standards. My goal is to reach 12 by December 31 (all donations tax deductible.) This may sound terribly sombre and pessimistic (it's really not meant to) but, although you may not stop entering comps or submitting to journals, you'll do it with a bare minimum of expectation, because there's always just so many other talented people in the field, and you can never bank on the editor's taste. On top of which, when you finally DO manage to jag a by-line, it's the most amazing bonus because you hadn't really pinned all your hopes to it.

    You'll get there; I know you will. Just keep trying.

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  4. Thanks Glen, that response was really cheering. I love the idea of failing better next time... that's a goal I know I can achieve.

    I think where I am at right now is being able to be rejected without it shaking my faith in who I am as a writer, which is a major achievement, but I am lucky to have support from friends, family and readers such as yourself. Best of luck to you also!

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  5. Keep on keeping on, Emily. You are a good writer! At least you're putting your stuff out there, which is more than I'm doing ...

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