Before I launch into what I really want to post about today, I need to say this: I’m very glad indeed that Saturday isn’t my Dead Guy day. On Saturday I think I was in shock, along with most of the USA’s population. Dale said what was needed, and I have little to add, except to me the solution is so clear: get rid of the guns. That’s what happened here in the UK back in 1996, when a badly disturbed gunman mowed down sixteen children in a Scottish primary school. The law was changed to make it illegal to own a handgun, and shotguns became even more carefully regulated.
OK, so it doesn’t solve the problem completely – but making guns harder to come by surely has to have some effect.
I guess I’m only allowed to say this because I’m not American. But for me it’s stating the obvious. Like banning nuclear weapons, not hitting kids and assuming (not granting) that all people are equal but different.
Enough of the proselytizing. Today’s topic was going to be rejection, and how to deal with it. More specifically, how I’m dealing with it right now.
I thought I was done with all that. A not-at-all-bad track record of published short stories and magazine features and a still thriving mini-career as a newspaper theatre critic is more than a lot of wannabe writers achieve. And somehow, when I turned my attention to other people’s writing, the ideas stopped flowing as readily, and I sort of gave up on the quest for bestsellerdom.
All the same, nine completed but unpublished novels in the attic and a boxful of half-developed ideas in the bottom of the cupboard, and now, in the absence of a small business to run, time to do something about them... One of those novels in particular wouldn’t let me go. Feed me, it cried, like a kind of literary Audrey Two; revise me; improve me; send me out again – I’m the one that really meant something, and who knows, I may make your fortune.
So I fed it. I asked for some feedback (ouch! Sorry.) from two people whose judgement I trust. One of the perks of having been in publishing is having those people in my life: people whose agenda is would I put time, effort and money behind this book? , not how would I have written this book better? The feedback made sense; my reaction was why didn’t I see that before? , not she’s completely missed what I was trying to say. In fact, it helped me resolve a problem which I always knew was there, but had repeatedly failed to find a solution for.
So I fed it, revised it, improved it – and sent it out again.
And it came back.
With the gentlest, most complimentary, supportive, positive and helpful rejection I’ve ever had in my life for anything. But a rejection nonetheless.
When I get a client for my editorial consultancy who really has what it takes, I try hard to be all those things myself – but I also point out that the first thing an aspiring writer has to do is grow very strong teeth, because s/he is going to be kicked in them. That’s the nature of the business. And now I’m racking up my own dentist’s bills all over again.
So what am I doing about it, apart from checking that I have good insurance?
If more years than I’m admitting to in this business has taught me anything, it’s this: try not to take it personally, and listen.
The first gets easier as time passes. It’s always harder when the book that’s being rejected is the one you really needed to write, the one that wouldn’t let you go, that kept demanding Feed me! Your head tells you nobody died and you never even met the person who turned you down, but when your heart’s buried deep in the work, it has trouble taking the necessary step back. But all the same, when it’s happened a few (hundred) times a couple of extra layers of skin have had time to form.
Listening shouldn’t be hard at all. Every writer I know has a streak of insecurity; the problem many of us have is knowing who not to listen to. Ask six people what they think of your work, they’ll all sound as if they know far more than you do, and you’ll get seven opinions. Though they may all have something useful to say, it won’t necessarily chime with what’s in your own heart. The secret, I’ve found, is to listen for that chime.
But then I don’t really need to say any of that, do I?
I apologize if I’ve been preaching to the choir today, but it’s been a while since I went through this process, and it feels almost new again.
Maybe it’s time to draw a line under that part of my life and stick to editing. At least that pays the dentist’s bills.
PS Remember last week, and the TV talent show? The contestant who knew better than the experts? He was voted off last night. Yay!