A few years ago I shifted my thinking from trying to get some marks on the publishing board to aiming for more rejections. It was an important shift in thinking as it forced me to understand that this publishing world is one that is full of rejections with the occasional win. There must be something in the wind about this thinking again as my email inbox is filling up with others thinking about artistic rejection. Brainpickings article of Walt Whitman’s response to rejection sent me on a pathway thinking about the resilience that I need as writer.
A number of years ago, I wrote a speculative fiction for a young adult readership. I put my very brave pants on and fronted up to the Australian Society of Author’s Literary Speed Dating with my two minute pitch ready. I sat in front of my desired publishers and blurted my pitch out. Two publishers told me that it sounded interesting and that they would like to see it when it was ready. I left the event a bundle of energy and excitement. Fast forward about six months that were fraught in non-writerly but more personal ways and I sent an email to one of the publishers (still don’t know why I didn’t send it to the other). He responded quickly asking for the first hundred pages. Soon, he asked for the rest. I wasn’t as confident with the rest of the manuscript and life was pretty chaotic at home…so this part took a while. When I sent it to him with great apologies for the time delay, he thanked me for sending it. After some nail biting time, he responded with a short email thanking me for sending it, but it wasn’t for their list at the moment.
I read that as complete rejection. That my manuscript mustn’t have been good enough. In hindsight, it wasn’t. It just wasn’t for that publisher.
I worked on it more, then saw that an agent was looking for young adult manuscripts, so I quickly sent an email. She responded immediately asking for more. I sent the manuscript through and after a period of time, she responded with a feedback on it saying that she’d be keen to see it again if there were further changes. On my first five reads of her email, all I could see was that it wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t until I showed a writer mate the email that I was able to see that she was keen to see it again.
I worked on it more (again) while working on my current manuscript (adult readership, literary historical fiction). When I had the historical fiction in a place that I thought I was happy with, another writer mate introduced me to a literary agent and I sent it in the hope that I’d be picked up. I wasn’t. The manuscript wasn’t ready. Stories take time, hopefully like all good things. I keep telling myself that, but since that rejection I have made some major changes to the manuscript that I am sure enhance it. The daughter’s voice found me and begged to be included and I have loved what she has brought to the story. I have now finished another draft of it and am anxiously waiting to get feedback on it from a manuscript assessment. I am petrified that it is rubbish, even after six years of work on it.
I like the Brainpickings quote from Jeanette Winterson with ten tips on writing to soothe me during this time as I play with new words for a new manuscript:
1. Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom.
2. Never stop when you are stuck. You may not be able to solve the problem, but turn aside and write something else. Do not stop altogether.
3. Love what you do.
4. Be honest with yourself. If you are no good, accept it. If the work you are doing is no good, accept it.
5. Don’t hold on to poor work. If it was bad when it went in the drawer it will be just as bad when it comes out.
6. Take no notice of anyone you don’t respect.
7. Take no notice of anyone with a gender agenda. A lot of men still think that women lack imagination of the fiery kind.
8. Be ambitious for the work and not for the reward.
9. Trust your creativity.
10. Enjoy this work!(Brainpickings: https://www.brainpickings.org/2018/09/05/jeanette-winterson-10-tips-on-writing/)
So, I’m moving forward. Writing more. Distracting myself from waiting to hear from the manuscript assessment. Knowing that some stories take a long time.
And in all of this, I am sending things out as it takes a heap of rejections as a writer. I’m aiming to increase my rejections this year in the hope it forces me to be brave, ambitious and creative…and resilient.