Snakes and Ladders


No, they’re not snakes. It’s drying seaweed. I was in Ireland. Everyone knows there are no snakes in Ireland…

I asked a Chinese friend of mine yesterday if the Year of the Black Snake was a good or bad one (let’s face it, it doesn’t sound like a carnival, does it?) Chen tells me it’s good and bad. So, snakes and ladders – or a regular year, then, with all its ups and downs, triumphs and rejections.

Triumph in any form is marvellous, and for a writer, so used to rejection letters, a small success can propel one to the moon. What I find difficult is to keep an even keel, not to go under when the rejections roll in (and roll in they do) and not to lose the run of myself when I win an award or get a story published (which thankfully is happening with increasing regularity these days).

I when I was 22, I wrote seven short stories. They were bad, really pretentious, crammed with adjectives and adverbs and with no theme or character development or point to any of them at all but I thought they were pure genius. I sent them off to every magazine I could find in the bookstore. And waited. And waited. And waited… until I became convinced that they had all been lost in the post. It was the only explanation, surely, as any editor would recognize my genius immediately, no? A couple of months later, I received a single rejection letter. And the truth dawned. No one else even bothered replying. It was 100% rejection. I was floored. I burned the stories I was working on and I didn’t send anything else off for a long time.

That was very stupid of me. I should have brushed myself off and tried again. I would be in a much better position and be a better writer now if I had. But I wasn’t strong or  mature enough to know that then. Ah, well. After a few years, I returned to creative writing and during my first year on my MA at UEA, I sent out another batch of stories. I’d had a few shorts published at this stage and was confident that I’d now win every competition going and it would pay my MA tuition. And, again I got nowhere. I was pretty down but I recalled how I’d let rejection defeat me before and vowed it wouldn’t happen again. I sent out more, and then more. And after six months, I won the Mary and Ted O’Regan Award, and then the Annaghmakerrig award and the Molly Keane Award, the HISSAC, the Meridian and the Sussex Playwrights’ and this year I’ve been selected as an Escalator Literature Artist and have just recorded my first radio drama, ‘Cow’.

Anyway, the moral is don’t give up – look at how you can improve your rejected story and send it out again. Remember, much depends on what the magazine or the competition judge is looking for at that particular time, it may not be a comment on your writing skills. Do a bit of research, try to find a suitable home and try and try again. You will get there in the end.


About suehealy

From Ireland, Sue Healy is Literary Manager at the Finborough Theatre, London, a full-time Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Lincoln. Her book on theatre literary management is published by Routledge, December 2022. Sue is an award-winning writer for stage, TV, and prose writer. TV Her current project, a 6x60minute TV series, is under option. She is under commission with Lone Wolf Media, producers behind PBS’ “Mercy Street”, to co-write the pilot and treatment for a six-part TV series. Stage Her most recent stage-play, Imaginationship (2018), enjoyed a sold out, extended run at the Finborough and later showed at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. Her previous stage productions include Cow (Etcetera Theatre, 2017) and Brazen (King’s Head Theatre, 2016), funded by Arts Council England. Sue’s short plays have been performed at the Criterion (Criterion New Writing Showcase), Arcola (The Miniaturists) and Hackney Attic (Fizzy Sherbet Shorts). Radio Her radio work includes nine plays broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (Opening Lines winner), WLRfm and KCLR96fm. Prose Sue has won The Molly Keane Award, HISSAC Prize, Escalator Award, Meridian Prize and has been published in nine literary journals and anthologies including: The Moth, Flight, Tainted Innocence, New Writer, Duality, HISSAC, New European Writers. She has been writer-in-residence on Inis Oírr, Aran Islands, and at the Heinrich Boll Cottage on Achill Island. She has also benefitted from annual artist residencies at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, and at Ginestrelle, Assisi in Italy. An academic with a PhD in modern theatre history, specifically the Royal Court Theatre, Sue has presented her research internationally. She spent eleven years in Budapest, editing Hungary A.M. She has a PhD in modern theatre history (Royal Court Theatre) and is a UEA Creative Writing MA alumnus. View all posts by suehealy

8 responses to “Snakes and Ladders

  • gabi138

    The only way to avoid rejection is never to submit anything. It’s also a good way to avoid success…

  • gabi138

    The only way to avoid rejection is never to submit anything. It’s also a good way to avpid success…

  • Mary J. McCoy-Dressel

    I can understand your teen work being filled with adverbs and adjectives. If like here, they teach, or almost demand, kids fill their sentences with them. I would almost scream in the classroom when I had to help students write their papers.

    I had to scroll down your page really quick so I didn’t have to look at snakes. Glad they weren’t. I agree about never giving up. Happy writing. Keep submitting no matter what.

  • loz

    Thanks for this Sue. I was born in the year of the snake so This is my year.

  • lettersandfeathers

    Thank you for your blog:) After getting my umpteenth rejection today, I am feeling slightly more positive about life after reading your post:)

  • continue

    Didn’t you write a post exactly like this last year?

  • gabrielablandy

    Nice post, Sue. That photo at the top really freaked me out!
    I’ve really found such a grounded place with my writing – finally – and I’m sure it has to do with what you are talking about here. There was a point where I stopped assuming (of kidding myself) that I was brilliant, and imagined that I wasn’t great, which then allowed me to think about how I could improve myself as a writer. I wrote a post this week about what happens when you try to get ahead, through ‘unnatural’ means – how it’s doomed. I’m certain that your success, and anyone else out there just putting in the time with their work, is to do with graft – and the ability to see as many perspectives as possible. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • Michelle Rattigan

    Oh thank you!!!! Thank you, thank you. I needed this so badly tonight. After seeing the shortlist of a writing comp (I’m nowhere to be found) I thought, screw this still an undiscovered genius;) All thoughts of driving to Aldi and requesting two bottles of their cheapest plonk have be eradicated.Your blog has given me hope.Cheers, clink!

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