10 points on Rejection for Writers and Artists

Coping as an Artist, Writing/Publishing
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  1. It’s a pity it is called rejection. It’s a loaded word. Particularly to writers who work with words. ‘Rejected’ smacks of turned down lovers, lost opportunites, the end of the line for an idea or concept or project. Of sobbing in private and feeling sorry for yourself, binge-eating and soggy tissues. It suggests the harshest of judgement: that we are not worthy. Synonyms for rejection are a bleak crowd of words that include: exclusion, brush-off, dismissal, turndown, cold shoulder, as well as violent manifestations like kick-in-the-teeth and slap-in-the-face.

 

How about we re-name this particular element of the writer and artist’s work-day –because they happen a lot.

  1. ‘Rejection’ is a term that is simply not useful. It gives the writer no-where to go from the point of the letter, or more likely email, landing on our desks. ‘Rejection’ suggests a closed door. What if we chose a word that was less final? Like ‘delayed’ or ‘suspended’ or even the term ‘turned around’ – words and phrases that suggest there is a crack in that door, or better yet, another door altogether.

 

  1. We know that one thing always leads to another It is inevitable. ‘Rejection’ is simply an unfortunate name for the moment we are sent in a new direction, on our way somewhere else. We are not diminished by this gesture, we are just sent elsewhere, our goal suspended, delayed…

 

  1. We have to handle it. Other writers and artists before us have handled it. Even people who became very famous (perhaps, especially people who became very famous) – in writing and in other fields like music and comics – handled it. We artists handle it every day. In handling it we can either grow thick skins or re-imagine what it means to not get the opportunity. When we can take the second course (being delayed instead of rejected) we see that other opportunities will abound.

 

  1. The problem central to the idea of taking-it-on-and-moving-forward is that we associate our work with ourselves. Our work informs our central idea of what we do and therefore who we are. Let’s remind ourselves, often, that we are not our work…there is, in fact, a clear line between who we are and what we make. That what we make, no matter how personally and passionately involved we become with it, is not our essential selves. That the feeling that comes with being turned down is real and can hurt, but it is not a reflection on us as people. It is often a reflection of something else altogether, that we will never really know…like that the publisher/agent/magazine has something similar in the works, or has a personal dislike that your work touched on…

 

 

  1. The terms delayed or turned around help emphasise that it is the work, not you personally. That the work is still moving, full of potential that will go elsewhere. Imagine saying: ‘My short story was just turned around by The New Yorker.’ Or ‘That poem I’ve been writing for the last four years was just delayed by the editor of The Australian.’ How much better does that sound?

 

  1. Most of the time you get some kind of feed back with your ‘delay’ letter. Something that will give you a handle on why you are not being published/winning the fellowship/competition/art prize or agent contract. Even though it hurts, it is worth looking these over carefully. They may give you a clue as to how to proceed, form a pattern that you can use to improve.

 

  1. If you are not into improving you should get off the bus. Everyone working in the industry is working hard to improve. If you are delayed in your dreams there is room to grow…

 

  1. Guy Winch suggests you revive your self worth in the light of rejection. One sure-fire way to do this as writers and artists is to make new work. To get fired up about something new and positive rather than dwelling on the past. Get your head down and write something new, like, for example a blog post about how to handle rejection…?

 

Guy’s excellent Tedtalk is here:

 

  1. Lastly, to survive the daily grind of making work and staying accountable to your creative self you need to make sure your goals are realistic, you are ready to work really hard to see them through and that you reward yourself with simple pleasures that keep you moving forward. Listen to your favourite music. Take a hot bath. Bribe yourself with fair-trade chocolate coffee beans. Whatever it takes. And, if you feel despair creeping up on you remember to reject it.  Or turn it around. Or at the very least, be compassionate to yourself and delay it and talk to a friend.

 

More?

Famous artist’s rejections from Mental Floss

17 other rejected authors

 

 

 

7 of 7 books that changed my life

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Good evening folks – this is my final 7 books that changed my life in 7 days. And boy, it’s not enough space, dear nominator, the inimitable Jen Webb. I have not covered the poetry, the non fiction, the short story collections, nor the women who inspired me, really anything I read post 2010….And I want to do one for picture books that if you haven’t read you haven’t lived (Shrek – I mean the original by William Steig, anyone?) or the books of cartoons, or my love of obscure science fiction….

But, with all this in mind, dear readers, I have to tell you that The Body Artist by Don DeLillo is my final book.
I have agonised. But this one is a stand out – partly because of what he does with plot involutions (I LOVE plot involutions, this is part of why I’ve never published any of my  novels) and tone. Every sentence rings with the vigour of something toiled over. The whole book is a poem.

I was working in book selling in Adelaide when I picked it up. I took it (still in hardback) to an optometrist appointment. I saw reception, sat down and stayed there for 2 hours riveted, hardly daring to breathe the spell on me was so strong. They forgot about checking my eyes, or maybe I just didn’t hear them call me in…

Those opening paragraphs, the birds on the lawn, the banal conversation that haunts and haunts the rest of the story. If you haven’t, you must read this one.

 

Day 6 of 7 Books that changed my Life

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Hello – I’m up to day 6 of 7 of the 7 books that changed my life…

Today I have been thinking that The Secret History by Donna Tartt has to make it onto my list. I haven’t felt the earth move for her other books, but The Secret History – I almost expected the characters to pop over and tell me what happened next.

I came to it late – read it about 2003 – after the hype (which I never believe BTW) had died down. I stayed up all night reading, so the final climactic scenes happened in the early hours of the morning when you are most vulnerable to suggestions and can be made to believe the worst. That’s how I feel Tartt treated her readers; she manipulated us as much as the characters did one another…. And of course Henry did what Henry did. What choice did he have?

I think I should probably re-visit this one, even though I am still shuddering from the last time. I think it’s actually a horror story in disguise…

In 2013, John Mullan wrote an essay for The Guardian titled “Ten Reasons Why We Love Donna Tartt’s The Secret History”, which includes “It starts with a murder,” “It is in love with Ancient Greece,” “It is full of quotations,” and “It is obsessed with beauty.” I have to agree with him.

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Day 5 of 7 Books that changed my life

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Day 5 of seven books that changed my life – sent this way to you by the very dear Jen Webb.

Today is HARUKI MURAKAMI day! Mainly because I can’t choose a favourite book. Is it Sputnik Sweetheart that confirmed my dislike of the Ferris wheel? Or Kafka on the Shore who still haunts me today about a decade after I read it. Or Hard Boiled Wonderland? I cannot choose. I love his darkness but also the very wonderful talking cat dialogues, the landscapes the strangeness of the world through his eyes.

If you have time you should check his website http://www.harukimurakami.com

Each book is like a glittering storm of familiar dust dancing through the darkness, exquisite jewellery to adorn the mind.

 

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Day 4 of 7 Books that changed my Life

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I’m already up to day 4 of my seven days of books that changed my life.

And it’s a tough one tonight folks, but A.S Byatt stole my girl’s heart with Possession. I’d been living on a strange diet of Jane Austen, romantic poets with a modern poetry twist and also (for another course I was taking) lots of Asimov and science fiction. Somehow Possession married everything I loved about all of this and threw in a great mysterious central poetry drama. I’m not sure how I’d feel if I read it again now- but damn she’s clever.

 

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My own well thumbed copy of Possession that’s been on trains and picnics and many places with me.

Day 3 of books that changed my life

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I am struggling with this because there SO MANY BOOKS – but I have to choose 5 more…

I read Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being in my 20s. I don’t remember a thing about it – but I do remember being in a kind of altered state afterwards. As if the book had rewired my brain somehow. That the magic of the words in that particular order had arranged my synapses into new and extraordinary patterns.

 

Photo by me with my dodgy thumb

DAY 2 of Books that Changed my Life

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Day 2 of the 7 days of books that changed my life.

I was mooning around the Campus of Wollongong University, on the Australian Coast, avoiding duck poo in the long winding brick paths, dreaming about becoming a ‘writer’ and reading all sorts of authors and dabbling in poetry. As you do. So, there I was in my second hand denim jacket that came with train tickets in the pocket, and I picked up this volume with no context.

The Monkey’s Mask by Dorothy Porter blew my socks off. Not only was it sexy and dark and all those things you want your writing to be, it was a POEM and it was also a NARRATIVE. But it wasn’t one of those epics. And it was so engaging. And it was written by an Australian Woman. I was in love…

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Dorothy Porter eminent Australian poet and writer graduated from her arts degree the year I was born. She wrote in many fields – poetry, litbretti and also for young adults. At the time of her death she was collaborating on a rock Opera with Tim Finn. Her work was often dark and centred on the destructive nature of the human impulse. She died in 2008 of complications due to breast cancer. A star went out.

7 Books for 7 Days

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I’ve been nominated by the esteemed Prof. Jen Webb to nominate 7 books over the next seven days that CHANGED MY LIFE (sorry, I didn’t actually mean to shout there…) which made be scribble lists and walk and circles and sigh. There were too many. There were not enough. They weren’t clever… Then, dammit I thought about books that actually changed my direction – books that consumed me as much as I consumed them.

So, I take you back to 1992. I was in year 10 and I had a free hour because I had outright refused to study any maths subjects for my High School Certificate. Everyone else is in class, the sun beams down and I pick up the book I’ve nicked from my dad.

I lost myself, I was swallowed whole, the book had me by the throat, how could this man write like this?

I realise The English Patient had only just hit the shelves. I read it before it was famous, before it was a film, before all that followed. It was unlike anything I’d ever read. It did things with language and plot that made me tingle with delight.

 

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On Reading

Uncategorized, Writing/Publishing

I remembered something last night – as the rain over the city twinkled in the light and gurgled in the drain pipes. I remembered that I am in love with reading. And that this is why I write. Because if I can do to a reader what Ondaatje did to me when I was about 17 and just ready for a book that was a poem and a love song and a nest of complications to rattle my brain and reassure me that the world was not at all a simple place, then I will have achieved my life’s ambition.

The world is no simple place.

Is it the writer’s job to remind us of that – no matter what they write? Perhaps.

Here I am working away at many projects, some more advanced than others, some in poetry some fiction some non fiction, occasional journalism and I realise I am stabilising my view of the world by admitting – word by word by word – that it is more complex and nuanced and incredible than I will ever be able to fully express.

And that I am at peace with that. Because I have tried.