10 points on Rejection for Writers and Artists

Coping as an Artist, Writing/Publishing
man wearing eyeglasses using drawing pad

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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

 

 

 

Day 4 of 7 Books that changed my Life

Uncategorized

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.

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.

 

 

Mentoring – The Top 5 Tips for Creative Writers

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I am currently mentoring a year ten student – let’s call her Miss C – and it’s a really enriching experience. I hope it is for her, too.

I found myself giving her a list of writerly advice, and I think I would probably do well to heed my own words.

I thought I would list my top 5 tips from a practicing writer to a beginner and then remember that they really apply to everyone who is undertaking creative practice. No matter how good you get and how experienced you become, it’s always helpful to stop and unpack what you are doing.

  1. Make plans.  I found myself confiding to Miss C that in fact I wish someone had sat me down and taught me to plan writing when I was 15. Because that’s the bit you don’t see when you consume a book.
  2. Work towards an endpoint. Dream up where your story might go and take it towards that; in all likelihood you will change your mind, revise and edit, but in the meantime go to that point you can see on the horizon. (This does relate to planning, see step one…)
  3. Collaborate. The writing life can get a bit lonesome, so if you are ever offered the opportunity collaborate your heart out. Humans are social beings (even if writers sometimes forget this) and collaboration makes for new and interesting points of reference for your work.
  4. Keep your reader in the back of your mind – but don’t let them get behind the wheel too much.
  5. Be focussed – perhaps you could call it obsessive – but it’s important to stay with your writing though the tough times. Days of despair, keep writing. Days of dreadful anxiety, keep writing. Stay there and it will pass. After that you will have words on the page.

Note to self: revisit this page regularly.