Here is a link to a podcast I did recently with the lovely Mr. Ken Ward on his fabulous ‘What I Don’t Talk About @ Barbecues’ where we got into the nitty gritty of the lyric impulse, the new normal post-Covid and what I’m really sure about…so really, happy to talk about most of this at any BBQ I get invited to in the next while!
- 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.
- ‘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.
- 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…
- 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.
- 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…
- 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?
- 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.
- 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…
- 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:
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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…)
- 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.
- Keep your reader in the back of your mind – but don’t let them get behind the wheel too much.
- 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.
I love dogs. And, in trying to follow my own advice to do what you love I am researching a non-fiction dog based book.
It might take a bit of researching but it’s an idea I’ve had for a long time and I am really excited about it. It’s a corker. I can’t go into it here, but really, it’s good.
I’ll let you know as soon as I can about what’s happening. I know you’re on the edge of your seat…
So, I went backwards.
Not in a bad way at all.
HARDCOPY is an initiative run out of the ACTWriter’s Centre with the help of the Australia Council (or its new entity Ozco). Budding authors (fiction and non-fiction on alternate years) are invited to submit manuscripts that are assessed by talented professionals and then 30 are selected to participate in rigorous series of workshops, talks and panels. This equips the writers with knowledge of the Australian publishing industry, gives them a new lens through which to examine their own work and furnishes them with connections otherwise inaccessible – with publishers, agents, other published writers and other writers who are also seeking publication. These last are an amazing resource.
As an alumni from the inaugural HARDCOPY 2014 fiction edition I was able to attend the Friday seminars of ‘Intro2Industry’ which, from my previous experience, was one of the highlights of the HARDCOPY experience. Seriously. There you are in a room with agents, authors, publishers. The head spins, the tongue goes thick, there are little prickles of excitement as conversations are started and cards exchanged.
I was back there with my pulse accelerating, glassy eyed and dreamy listening to the talk of a world that seems so far removed from my experience – which so far has been and continues to be about getting good words onto the page and seeing where it takes me.
Here are my highlights from the 2016 HARDCOPY fiction edition Intro2Industry seminars from Friday 9th September.
Catherine Milne Publisher at HarperCollins
‘What Publishers Want’
Milne spoke engagingly and pitched her talk at exactly the right level for the group – well balanced between informal and informative.
She said her aim that day was to demystify the process of publishing and give us hopefuls greater knowledge when fronting up to publishers…
Milne had a turn of phrase of her own – while talking about the publishing market in Australia she confided in us that market spikes are like rare wild ibis. Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites for example and Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.
Australian and International reading patterns are changing, Milne suggested. We are curating our lives on social media as never before and TV shows are improving, filling a gap in the market that reading used to occupy. But, she stressed, there is GOOD NEWS. People are still reading, publishers are publishing, there are better attendance of writer’s festivals than ever before, bookshops are opening and not closing.
‘Publishing is at the uneasy intersection between art and commerce – dangerous and exhilarating, like a cross road in New Delhi.’
Publishers, Milne stressed, are not gate keepers, not door bitches, they see their role one of collaboration with the author.
What it comes down to is this equation: the author says ‘Give me you $32.99 and 10 hours of your life and I’ll give you a story you will never forget.’
We loved that Catherine stayed and sat among us and listened to the rest of the sessions for the day.
Jacinta Di Mase – Literary Agent
‘The Role of the Agent’
Di Mase compared ‘getting published’ to ‘getting married’ – for a new author the focus is on ‘the dress/the cover’ and sometimes not so much on the longevity of the relationship.
An agent provides perspective and continuity.
On selling a new title she riffed ‘ This book is very sexy, witty think Gourmet Traveller meets Vogue – see, this is what an agent can do for you…’
Di Mase stressed than an agent has a combination of commercial sensibility and nous.
Alex Adsett – Agent and Publishing Contracts Specialist
‘Copyright and Contracts’
This was a less formal session as Alex encouraged us to throw questions to her as they came up. Demonstrating her amazing knowledge of the area she answered all comers concisely and clearly.
She told us about the Copyright Agency and urged us to join it.
Adsett broke down the concept of copyright into two sentences.
Copyright applies to original work in its original form. If you created it, you own it.
And while you don’t need the © symbol on it to own it, it doesn’t hurt if it is there.
In terms of contracts, Adsett is the expert, and she went into complicated details of the various concerns of the group. But, at base she stressed that you need to negotiate with a publisher, work out what a deal breaker is for you individually and walk away if it’s important enough. Make sure to read (or have someone you trust read) the sneaky fine print.
Only go into self publishing as if it is a business in itself. Do your research.
She closed on this note:
‘This is why I love publishing. Everyone has a vested interest in this industry and because it’s small we need each other to survive.’
Sulari Gentill, Adrian Caesar and Robyn Cadwallader
‘What I know about being published (and what I wish I had known)’
Fragments of what was said in the discussion of the topic with Nigel Featherstone.
Gentill: ‘I write into an historical scaffolding and that will tell me where the characters need to go…’
‘And let me just say that when the call comes through that a publisher wants your manuscript you will not be in the best position to make rational decisions.’
Cadwalladar: ‘I remember sitting in the British library and crying when the email came through, thinking ‘the publishers get it!’’
Cadwalladar: ‘I have had to learn to put my sense of the value of my wrting in a different place.’
Caesar: ‘I was pushed into fiction because of the kinds of stories I wanted to tell. People tell you to write from your gut, which is what I’ve largely done – which is why I’ve not been published.’
Gentill: ‘Here’s a tip, the program called ‘Wordle’ will seek out an overused word in a text. In my last book that word was ‘Burly’ everyone was ‘burly’. There’s one in every book I’ve written.
Cadwalladar: I think I learnt from writing The Anchoress that I have to write to find out what’s happening. It’s helpful to get to a certain point where I’m not just churning out plot – where I can see themes and deeper shapes emerge. It’s enormously comforting…’
Gentill on the best way of dealing with rejection: ‘Go and sit at your desk and keep writing…’
This is a photo of an experiment I did with my big daughter yesterday. We tried making new crayons from all the old crayons around the house and as you can see the results will not make it onto Pinterest.
However, we really learnt something from doing this…not simply that we heated the crayons too quickly and the wax ran out of the moulds. What we found out was that we were risk takers. The kind of people that experiment and find out through trial and error. We weren’t too worried if the crayons didn’t work – though there was an element of disappointment that they were really thin and brittle. (‘What’s brittle mean?’ My daughter asked me ‘Just like this.’ I answered cracking another of our home made crayons out of its shell.)
What we also found out was that in order to make something you have to be prepared for mess, and possible casualties. I’m resigned to the fact that the biscuit cutters may never be the same…
Today I sat down to work on a short story. It started as a poem and had some lovely lines but no actual narrative. It was brittle. It would certainly crack under close observation. Making it into a story involved making it longer, filling it in with which’s and this’s and small descriptive passages.
I was tidying, after taking the risk and inventing the lines I was cleaning it up and making it something someone might one day want to read. Hell, they might plaster it all over a billboard one day, perhaps written in bright coloured crayon…even though the poem it had been had leaked and run and melted and become brittle, the story (like later versions of the crayon-cakes done in muffin trays with pattypan casings) was much more successful.
That’s another thing about creative mess. It takes creativity to get the mess sorted out. Even then, when it is done a bit of mess in there gives an inkling of how it was created. Perhaps this gives the finished product a bit more interest?
PS The yellow koala turned out quite well.