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Posts Tagged ‘rejection’

henry cordierReticent and uncertain; are my ideas any good? I’m sure it’s a question many speculative writers ask themselves. The writing starts in uncertain circumstances, notebooks under the pillows of childhood, then creative writing homeworks for school, which must pass the red pen test of one’s English Teacher.

Mine wrote poetry – good poetry, at least the snippets he read to us in class on the brighter of his days, the days when he was not so scowly-stern. I wanted him to like my writing too, my poetry. That I respected him, feared him a little even, it meant a lot to have him pen good things in the margins of my homeworks. And of course  it hurt when the marks slipped below C for things I’d laboured long upon, while managing to miss the point entirely.

Mr. Jones. It was approval I sought back then from him. In my eyes he was a literary genius, benign sage, and caustic nemesis rolled into one. He was a man I could both hate and love, this man who whipped me through my English O Level. He was a God, or rather the channel through which I sought the approval of the Gods for my words – his red pen the arbiter of permission to think the way I thought.

But after the brightly coursing stream of education, one is discharged into the stagnant, murky mill-pond of life, and with no Mr Jones, the image of Godhead moves to the faceless publisher. For the next twenty years I sought approval there instead, but to no avail, for the God of publishing does not exist; it is therefore healthier to be an atheist in all our dealings with them.

In retrospect, I am glad now for the red pen of Mr. Jones, bright-curling round my spelling mistakes, even the pointed “see me” and the ensuing stern lectures on my use of grammar and punctuation, with ears burning, and the girls in class I adored all listening in. Oh, the humiliation! Could he not see how much I wished to be like him? that words for me were thoughts out loud, and my thoughts did not seem like the thoughts of other boys. Are my thoughts all right, Mr. Jones? Is it all right to think and feel this way? Why can I see the story of a man’s life in a worn out shoe, when others see nothing? Why is there pathos in a girl’s discarded bow? Tragedy in a rusted spring? What see you there, Mr Jones? And is that all right? Is that normal?

Revise use of comma, apostrophe and semi-colon, Michael. Watch your spellings!

But once you have the mechanics, what you think is what you think, what you see is what you see, and you need no approval to think or see, or write an account of it. Then writing becomes a matter of style and long practice, years of practice,… decades and decades in the dusty notebooks of adulthood. But the thoughts are yours and the fact of your existence alone is sufficient for them to be written. If anyone agrees or not, is moved or not, is a matter for the Gods.

You have no power there.

Mr. Jones never told me this. It’s something we have to work out for ourselves. Perhaps he did not know; perhaps it was approval he sought for himself, through us, by reading us his poems. With the benefit of long hindsight, I think this might be true, for I am much older now than he was then, and age, if nothing else, brings insight.

No.

Do not write for approval. Ask yourself only this: in seeking publication am I chasing validation of my ideas? If the answer’s yes, you’re labouring under a delusion. Nobody cares that much. If a publisher likes your work you are one lucky scribe my friend, but if he does not, it does not mean you cannot write, that your mind is dim, that your thoughts are third rate – only that the publisher cannot sell them.

So where does approval come from? One’s online readers? It helps if readers say nice things, but it’s as well to bear in mind they might not mean it – same if they assault you with brickbats. Of course the only approval that means a damn comes from you. Only you can give yourself permission to think out loud, to have the courage your thoughts are worth the writing down. It sounds complicated and crinkly-weird, but it’s really very simple. Just be yourself, sincere, then the Gods might come and speak to you, and ultimately through you.

Isn’t that right, Mr Jones?

Good poems they were, your poems.

Keep well.

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dickens2One of our primary objectives as human beings is to prove, if only to ourselves, we’re actually alive. We do this by attempting to influence outcomes, by making sure others notice us and by feeling we are somehow in control, at least of those forces we perceive to be responsible for shaping our personal future. By this standard some of us clearly lead much bigger lives than others, but we all know bigger lives do not necessarily result in happiness nor insightfulness. Indeed the biographies of those who have lived the biggest lives more often read like a litany of blind disaster, lives overshadowed by clouds of profound dissatisfaction, self-loathing, and a permanent craving to be something or someone even bigger than the gargantuan mess they already are.

The shocking truth is it turns out there’s no difference at all between big people and small people. We all crave the same thing, and it’s always bigger, always “more” than the thing we’ve already got.

If I’m honest with  myself, in the early days of my writing “career”, it was not the writing so much as the desire to be published that motivated me. To be published, I thought, would be a powerful affirmation of self-worth. To have my thoughts accepted and digested and beautifully packaged by the most enlightened gurus of the publishing industry would have planted the crown of greatness squarely upon my head. It would have transformed the nervous, reticent, lovelorn teenager that I was into a demi-god, bursting with self confidence, oozing grace and charm,… and more, I would have been able to quit the day job, and attract beautiful women merely by virtue of the fact that I was a “writer” and – regarding the women – if that didn’t work I would simply buy myself a Porsche which, as everyone knows, come already fitted with beautiful women as passenger seat adornments!

Dogged persistence over many years of the dark pre-internet era did eventually result in the  publication of some words in small-press magazines but alas my earnings rarely amounted to anything more than a free copy of the magazine itself. There was always the chance it might lead on to bigger things, but it never did. I discovered this was all right though, because something had changed. Disappointment at my apparent worthlessness has shape-shifted into something else.

I had grown up.

I look back upon that period now merely as an affirmation I was capable of stringing sentences together. I also learned I did not have to work for the words to come; the words came of their own accord. I simply sat before the typewriter, opened that valve in my mind, and out they poured. Ergo, I could write, of a fashion, write for ever it seemed, but it was never going to make me any bigger than I was. But it didn’t seem to matter any more.

Reconciliation of one’s smallness, one’s insignificance, is perhaps the greatest open secret – that we miss so much of life when we turn our backs on what we are and what we have and for ever seek instead what we have not. In the great rush to become big and to disprove all the evidence of our insignificance it seems peculiar to turn against the tide and seek meaning instead in one’s apparent meaninglessness. But I think that is exactly what each of us in our own ways must learn to do.

In the great outback of Australia there stands a lone roadside shack in which there lives a man who has never, in eighty five years,  known any more of the world than what he has seen within a twenty mile radius of that sun baked, dusty spot. Question: is his life any smaller than that of the globe trotting business man, who at that moment is flying at thirty thousand feet above the toothless old man’s head?

I might have said yes, once, long ago – unequivocally yes – but I recognise this now as an immature and rather unenlightened view. It’s more a question of insight and self-awareness, and how we attain that state is more a letting go than a mastery of events. To answer for sure we would have to know what was in the heart of each of those men. Only then would it be revealed how truly big a life each had lived – because a big man with a small heart is still a small man.

It’s a mystery how and why life pops up to bear witness to itself from all these different perspectives. Nor at first glance does it seem necessary to Life that every detail of it be recorded for posterity. It will, for example,  be no great loss to the world when these words sink to that great sedimentary mire that is the resting place of even the most prolific bloggers’ pontifications. Yet those of us who can write, should, because only by writing do we broaden the vision of life, not just for others but perhaps more importantly for ourselves.

So, think you’re big enough to be a writer? Answer: anyone is big enough to be a writer. Just don’t set out with the view that by writing you shall ever amount to anything more than what you are right now, at least when judged by the usual worldly measure of these things. That’s not the deal. You write because you write. You reflect life back upon itself, without judgment or expectation, and let life itself, in all its variety, decide through your words the measure of its own greatness.

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I wrote in an earlier post that Michael Graeme had decided to break with his long-standing resolve, and try to get something published in the printed press this year.  His reasons were obscure. His free online offerings had received positive reviews from his readers, and the download rates were beyond his expectations, which is as much as any writer can hope for, but a residual part of him still wanted the approval of that most mythical of creatures: an editor,… so he thought, why not?

He sent a couple of stories out, one of them back in April, which he’s still waiting to hear from – the other back in October. The latter was rejected by e-mail this morning, while the former seems to have been sucked into a black hole, which has happened before and is a sort of implied rejection, a bit like the regular variety, but without the punchline.

Rejection is a funny business. As a writer, I think you tell yourself to expect it, but as time passes following the moment the post box swallows your submission, you eventually allow yourself to harbour vague hopes, warm feelings, spurious intuitions. You watch the mail, though you tell yourself you’re not watching, or waiting, while at the back of your mind you are.  You’ve enjoyed writing a story, creating characters, watching them develop a relationship over successive drafts, and then you send it off, expecting others to be equally warmed, enthused or whatever.

And they reject it.

Editors never go into detail. Why should they? They have to read hundreds of stories every week. So, the writer never knows what it was they didn’t like about the story. Was it completely unintelligible? Were you so caught up in the story you forgot about the basics of grammar? Was your punctuation alarmingly eccentric? Or was the story basically okay, but not quite the right sort of story for the type of magazine they’re running? To be honest you will never know. Take my word for it, you can read the publication guidelines all you like, but  you’ll need to be psychic as well to really know what it is they want.

So,… even though you’re half expecting your story to be rejected, you’re also half expecting it to be accepted, and the result, when it comes – no matter how hardened, how achingly old, or embittered a scribbler you are – is a kick in the balls. Michael Graeme actually felt a bit glum this morning, and that’s something his writing hasn’t done to him for a long time – it was also childish and pathetic and trust me, he chastised himself for it.

So. You’re a writer. It’s happened to you. What do you do about it?

Well, I stripped the beds, put the covers in the washing machine, then swept the kitchen floor and mopped the counters after number two son had made his porridge. I washed up, dried the pots and put them all away. Then I emptied and cleaned out the fridge after number two son had somehow managed to spill milk all over it. And between chores, I sat a bit and thought a bit – had a jug full of very strong Java coffee, did a bit Qigong,… then, on a whim, tried to decipher the Chinese writing on my practise sword,… read some poetry,… the usual things really.

Then, by mid-afternoon, my thoughts were turning to the novel I’m currently writing – the one I’ll never submit to an editor in a hundred years, and know damned well that even at this early stage in its genesis it will be going straight up on Lulu.com. Why? Well, I have a choice now – I can either spend the next twelve months finishing it, then the next three or four years hawking it round the print publishers, before giving up on it and feeling bad about it, or I can let people read it straight away, feel good about it, and move swiftly on to the next project. My last novel, “Push Hands” is achieving about three hundred downloads a month.  It’s being read. And really that’s the whole point!

It’s just that it’s taken me since April, and that first submission to remember this very old lesson.

So, the editor didn’t like my story, but what would it have changed if the editor had liked it? A cheque for fifty quid? What ‘s that? The price of a week’s petrol? Forgive me Michael, but that’s not enough reason to be feel miserable over anything! Is there a touch of ego there, I wonder? A touch of attachment?

Let it go.

Writer’s write. That’s all there is to it.

As for you, dear reader – you must forgive this temporary aberration. Also, check out the Rivendale Review and  Feedbooks for updates – there’ll be a couple of new short stories appearing soon – well three actually if I can resolve the ending on the last one!

So, how do you deal with rejection? It depends on you, the writer, and what sort of writer you are, but I’d say you should allow yourself the luxury of no more than ten minutes disappointment.

Then get over it.

And get on with it.

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